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Indiana 33 Rutger 27: Making sense of the win

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Mistakes galore kept the inept Scarlet Knights in the game until the very end, but the Hoosiers ultimately pulled out their 5th win and seem a near-lock for a bowl game.

Indiana v Rutgers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It was an infuriating day for Indiana fans. Interceptions, fumbles, false starts, blocked kicks, botched snaps, a defender lost in the open field, and a putrid conversion rate inside the Rutger 30.

It was also a glorious day. 567 yards of offense and 27 first downs resulting from an offense that couldn’t be stopped by anyone but themselves, a defense that allowed just two sustained drives in 27+ minutes of Rutger possession, playmakers showing off some dazzling talent, and a monstrous fifth win.

But the question for a lot of Indiana fans this morning has to be how do I reconcile the good with the bad?

In the first half — much like previous contests with Wake Forest, Northwestern, and Nebraska — some fans were surely of the mindset that these are the same old Indiana Hoosiers, toying with our emotions but ultimately not as good as we thought and incapable of ever sustaining the recent success. And to be fair, anyone who felt like that was justified.

This team probably isn’t as good as we once thought. The win against Michigan State now looks about as good as the (hopefully forthcoming) win over Purdue will look. At one point this season (prior to the Wake Forest game), eight or nine wins seems legitimately possible. Four of the five they’ve won seemed like locks, and Northwestern and Penn State were floundering. Home wins over Michigan State and Nebraska appeared to be all that was stopping this team from the greatest season in modern program history. Alas, it never came to fruition.

But what the win yesterday did do was almost assure that this team, that probably isn’t as good as last season’s team, will reach a second consecutive bowl game, something the program has not done since the 1990 and ‘91 seasons. And that’s not nothing.

For all the frustration that accompanies Kevin Wilson being your football team’s head coach — the stunning play calls, the stubbornness, the seeming inability to get both sides of the ball to click for four quarters on the same day — it is undeniable that he is doing a better job with this program than most ever thought possible. There is recognizable improvement in some areas each year. Those who want to be angry about this program or about Kevin Wilson will say, “yeah, the defense took two steps forward this year but the offense took a few steps back.” Those people will also ignore that the program lost NFL-caliber talent at quarterback and running back and has had injuries galore on the offensive line.

Perhaps that’s part of what we should be taking away from this win at Rutger. With a depleted offensive line and a quarterback situation that leaves much to be desired, Wilson and the Hoosiers still found a way to overcome a double-digit deficit on the road in the Big Ten. Like the opportunity to reach a second consecutive bowl game, that’s not nothing, even if the opponent was Rutger. Remember Ball State? How bout North Texas? What about Navy, Navy again, Bowling Green, Rutger, and Rutger again?

Ineed, the takeaway this morning should be progress, in the result if not in the talent, in the attitude if not in the style. And those things are what are important, right? Wins and attitude — the program has had neither through the years and it is a refreshing change to see both starting to seep into the culture surrounding Indiana football.

The previous 500+ words were the long way of getting to this: the way to make sense of this ugly win at Rutger is to be disappointed in the performance but also to refrain from being so tone-deaf that you can’t see that the fact they got a win at all on a day when they weren’t even half of the best version of themselves is an immense improvement from the grim, desolate reality that this program and its fans used to live in, where wins were sparse, hope and pride were just words, and football didn’t matter in Bloomington. Want more and expect more, but be excited that this program turned another corner yesterday, demonstrating it can win games against bad teams even when everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

And if you’re a loyal CQ reader, you can take solace in the fact that this win has had the wonderful effect of keeping Rutger fans out of our comments. It is hard to imagine that any fanbase could be so oblivious to the reasons they’re not wanted, to the quality of their primary athletics programs, and the stench of their arrogance. But for the last several hours, they’ve been nowhere to be found. Yes, it seems that this victory may have finally served as the boot stomping on the cockroach. Until next time, good riddance, Rutger fans.