Northwestern 29, Indiana 28: trying to stomach a gut-punch of a loss.

It's been 48 hours.  I am feeling much better physically, thanks for asking, but I can't quite stomach the idea of watching that 3.5 hour file sitting on my DVR.  On one hand, I feel as if I need to watch it.  This game will, unfortunately, probably be the defining moment of the 2009 season and the Lynch era, and it seems as if I should have it in my memory bank.  On the other hand, my time is valuable, and am I going to spend it watching IU celebrate with a 28-3 lead knowing how it is going to turn out?  Still, here are the stats, and I'll take what I can from that for now. 

The game started well, of course.  Darius Willis broke a 70 yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage.  Northwestern went three and out.  After the two traded punts, IU took advantage of a Ray Fisher punt return deep into NU territory to score the rarest of the rare, a red zone touchdown.  NU punted again, and IU took a 21-0 lead with a 76 yard drive culminating with another Darius Willis touchdown.  NU drove for a field goal, and Ray Fisher returned the kickoff for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead.  That was the high water mark, at the 7:32 mark.  At that point, IU led big, of course, and had a yardage advantage of 195-106 (even with one of IU's TD's scored on a kickoff return and another after a 28 yard drive).  After that, the wheels fell off, of course.  NU scored two touchdowns to close the lead to 28-17 at the half.  Following the Fisher kick return, IU gained only 110 yards to 368 by Northwestern. 

 

The drives in the second half that seem to be causing the most consternation are two drives in which IU went for it on 4th down.  Late in the third quarter, with IU still leading 28-19 (a blocked punt led to an IU safety in the third), IU went for it on fourth and goal from the one.  A field goal would have pushed the lead to 12.  The other was in the fourth quarter, when IU went for it on 4th and 3 from the 33.  Frankly, having not yet watched the game, I tend to think the latter was more defensible than the former.  In the first instance, it probably made more sense, after having given up 16 unanswered points, to extend the lead a bit.  As for the second, I think the decision makes more sense.  IU was on the 33, probably outside Nick Freeland's reasonable range, and IU's punting game hasn't been a precision unit.  A punt, given IU's lack of precision in that game, probably wouldn't have netted more than 13 yards.  Even a single first down would have allowed IU to run a couple of minutes off the clock and perhaps position Freeland for a more makeable field goal.  A touchdown would have all but sealed the victory.  So, based on nothing more than the stats, I have to defend one of Lynch's two decisions (although I can't comment on the play calls, of course).   Finally, given what I said about Freeland's reasonable range, what made more sense: a 59-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the game, or a Hail Mary?

 

Well, now I have read the box score.  Maybe I can force myself to watch the game and gain some more insight on the above.  For the big picture, of course, this is a devastating loss for Bill Lynch and for IU's bowl hopes.  IU likely will be an underdog in all four of its remaining games.  The Purdue game should be competitive, the Wisconsin game would be a significant upset, and an upset at either Iowa or Penn State would be IU's most shocking upset in decades.  I had hoped to spend the next couple of weeks checking out the competition for bowl bids.  Instead, we probably will be discussing Lynch's future and even possible candidates for the coaching job.  Such is life.  More as the week continues.

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