The number of years that you have been watching IU football likely has an impact on how you interpret Indiana’s close but not quite loss at Michigan State on Saturday.
Hoosier fans young and old can look at an exciting young quarterback like Michael Penix and find some measure of optimism.
But the more seasoned you are as a Hoosier fan, the more likely your skepticism outweighs your optimism by a healthy margin.
Few have seen more Indiana football games than radio announcer Don Fischer, who started calling the team’s contests back in the 1970’s.
Fischer is often in the press room during Tom Allen’s weekly media availability as he prepares for each week’s game, but more often than not he doesn’t ask a question of the head coach.
But this week was different.
Clearly flabbergasted by what he witnessed on Saturday — in the context of what he has been watching for 45 years — Fischer seemingly asked a question on behalf of the IU fan base.
“I don’t know what your thought on this is,” Fischer said to IU head coach Tom Allen.
“I’ve seen this for years at Indiana, and I’ve been around here a long time. We’re not finishing games now any better than we have been for the last 20 years. It’s just been that kind of situation. Any ideas on what you can do or how you can get this team to understand how important it is to finish?
“You get the lead, and we’ve got guys celebrating, but it’s almost like they already think the game’s won, and then we let this team go down and score a touchdown easily.
“You know what I’m talking about?”
The question was asked in the respectful manner that you would expect of Fischer, but it was nevertheless a tough question, especially coming from someone so near and dear to the program.
Of course Allen has heard variants of the question dozens, if not hundreds of times to this point.
And just like Fischer, Allen responded in the same respectable tone.
“Sure,” Allen said. “As a matter of fact, even during the game, when we took the lead early in the fourth quarter, I got on a headset, and guys seemed excited — which you want, energy, there’s no question about it. But I said to our guys specifically, I said, ‘Fellas, we have a young football team. Teach them how to handle where we are. We have to finish.’
“So, obviously, we’re at that moment addressing it head on. I saw the same thing you saw, being able to handle some level of success even though you didn’t finish — hadn’t finished yet, and we did not finish.”
“It’s a great teaching time for your guys. To me — and I know I haven’t been here all those years in the past, and I know you’ve seen a lot of football here, a lot more than I have — but I see it as two things.
“Number one is youth with this group. All right? And number two, I feel like it’s you have to learn how. You do. You have to learn how. Learn how to finish. Learn how to win those kinds of games.”
Of course IU has been trying to learn how to win those kind of games for decades. For an entire career for Fischer.
Allen can only control his tenure, and he has had the Hoosiers as close in the big games as anyone going back to the Bill Mallory years.
“Since I’ve been here there have been a lot of to the bitter end battles,” Allen said.
Mallory’s teams eventually broke through, beating Michigan and Ohio State in the same season, and securing multiple wins over Michigan State.
It’s clear that Indiana truly is close, or we wouldn’t see game after game go down in a similar manner.
But how do they finally finish?
For Allen, it’s all about attention to detail in the preparation for the game.
“Trusting in the discipline of the preparation to be able to execute in those moments,” Allen said.
It’s the third year head coach’s contention that if you have all of the details down, the mistakes won’t happen late.
He also added the obvious — that more talent and depth would of course help the cause.
Until then, Allen, Fischer, and Indiana fans will continue to be frustrated.
But the Hoosier head coach is going to keep pounding the rock.
“I’m just as frustrated as anybody with not being able to finish,” Allen said.
“But discouraged? No.”