1. This game was a microcosm of Indiana's season, and Kevin Wilson's tenure at IU.
The Hoosiers are affectionately known on the internet as #CHAOSTEAM. This is a characterization that I sometimes resent or wish we didn't have, but it does give Indiana an identity that makes the Hoosiers stand out from any other school in the B1G. And boy, was this game chaotic. Eight lead changes, 85 total points, and an overtime finish will do that to a game. All in all, this game will be remembered as one of the most entertaining ones of the 2015 bowl season, as the two teams combined for over 1,200 total yards and 56 first downs.
The game played out the way so many Indiana games have, especially against quality opponents. Score plenty of points, hang around throughout the game and maybe even have a late lead, but ultimately fall short. A national audience got to experience what watching Indiana football is like, week after week. Fun, exciting, but sadly ends in disappointment.
2. Indiana's offense and defense played to the same roles they have all season - with a few exceptions.
The Hoosiers put up 667 yards of offense and let up 536. After a slow start, Nate Sudfeld eventually caught fire in his final collegiate game, throwing for three touchdowns and 389 yards. We'll get to Devine Redding in a minute, but he more than made up for the absence of Jordan Howard. Some lesser-known skill players also found their way to the end zone. However, Indiana's defense allowed Duke to keep pace with the Hoosiers, as QB Thomas Sirk rushed for 155 yards.
Both the offense and defense had a few uncharacteristic moments though. Sudfeld, who only had 5 picks all season, threw two in this game, and it took an unusually long time for the Hoosiers to put points on the board. Meanwhile, IU's defense picked off Sirk twice, and came up with several key stops on third and fourth downs.
3. Three big plays allowed Duke's offense to score 21 points, and made the difference in the game.
While Indiana had some longer drives and opportunistic turnovers that turned to points, Duke had three huge plays in this game. The first was an 85-yard run by Shaun Wilson late in the first quarter, followed by a 73-yard run from Sirk with a minute to go in the first half. Finally, Wilson's 98-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter tied the game up right after the Hoosiers had kicked a field goal to go up seven. These three explosive plays allowed the Blue Devils to stick around and regain momentum every time that the Hoosiers looked like they were about to take over.
4. Devine Redding shows that Indiana has a bright future ahead in the ground game, even if Jordan Howard goes pro.
While Howard received many of the accolades this season, Redding quietly put up a 1,000-yard campaign for the year. And yesterday, he had his best game of the year, rushing for 227 yards and a score on 35 carries.
Redding's performance speaks to the continuity that Indiana football has developed over the past five years. When you have this continuity in coaching staff, you're able to develop good players and a put really good system in place. Sudfeld is gone next year, and Howard may be as well. But the Hoosiers will have replacements, and new players will have a chance to shine, especially in this potent offense.
5. This was an excellent football game that should not have been weighted down by all the baseball and basketball jokes.
We all have made the jokes for a month: two basketball schools playing football in Yankee Stadium. But by gametime, it became obnoxious, and took away from the fact that this was a really fun game (until the very end). And a lot more competitive than the 94-74 beatdown that Duke gave IU in hoops at Cameron Indoor earlier this month. The only connection worth mentioning in the game was that Indiana backup running back Alex Rodriguez got to score his first TD in Yankee Stadium, which is pretty cool.
6. New York City was a terrific host to the bowl game.
Look, I know that having a bowl game the day after Christmas wasn't ideal for most Hoosier fans, and that New York isn't exactly a perfect place overall. But, having your bowl game in the Big Apple gives you some cool perks. The Hoosiers and Blue Devils got to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and the Empire State Building lit up in red and white stripes earlier in the week. Add that to the fact that the Hoosiers got to play in Yankee Stadium, and it was a great opportunity for yet another big stage for the Hoosiers, who have been used to playing on national TV against top opponents this year.
7. Griffin Oakes has had a great season and shouldn't shoulder the blame for this loss.
Okay, let's get to the kick.
I think it went in. I also realize I am biased and have been looking at this angle for the past 24 hours:
Spare me your talk of "optics" and "angles" too - I know trig and physics and what SOHCAHTOA stands for. Unfortunately, this kick was not reviewable, and as referees typically do, they left the field immediately without providing an explanation. I'm not going to argue that the officiating crew deserves a suspension for this one, like the crew who monitored the Miami-Duke game received. Hopefully, however, this rule of an unreviewable kick gets changed so that this type of finish is prevented in the future.
For Griffin Oakes, it's an unfair way to end the season. Oakes has been a very reliable kicker for the past two seasons, seamlessly stepping in to big shoes that Mitch Ewald left to fill. Last month, he won kicker of the year in the B1G. Thus, he did not deserve the dumb twitter scorn that he received after this one was over.
8. There's still a lot of work to be done for Kevin Wilson at Indiana.
The outcome of this bowl game shows not only how far the Hoosiers have come under Wilson, but also how much further IU can still go. I generally think the phrase "stay hungry, stay humble" is cliched and overused, but in this case it works. IU can be satisfied with getting to a bowl game this season - I'd argue that it was what Wilson needed to do in order to keep his job. But as disappointing as the loss was, it also keeps IU hungry for more success in the future.
Obviously the missed kick will be bulletin board material for the Hoosiers, but the loss was yet another close one in a season of close calls. After winning three close games early on, the Hoosiers lost five games by a touchdown or less to Ohio State, Rutgers, Iowa, Michigan, and Duke this season. If Indiana can close out games, then the sky could be the limit for this team.
Next season will begin in Miami against FIU on September 1. I'm already looking forward to it.