Ah, the unexpected non-conference loss, college football's most bitter liquor.
After a first half that saw Indiana head to the tunnel with a 21-7 disadvantage that felt, at least to a certain extent, undeserved, the defense that had largely kept the Hoosiers in the game while the offense made error after error began to fatigue and crack. This culminated in a penalty-laden touchdown drive in which the visiting Demon Deacons were provided new life multiple times. On the other side, interceptions that felt flukey in the first half continued in a more deliberate fashion in the second and a largely absent running game turned the Hoosiers offense into its most chaotic form yet.
Make no mistake, Wake Forest came into Bloomington and earned their victory. Indiana had their share of self-inflicted mistakes, but timely big plays by the Demon Deacons ensured that those mistakes were met with the ultimate penalty, turning five Indiana turnovers into 17 points, representing more than half of the team's total output for the day. Wake only managed 5.9 yards per pass (Indiana 10.6) and 3.6 yards per rush (same for the Hoosiers) but when given enough chances (and Wake ran over 80 plays), those kind of per play numbers can be overcome.
Richard Lagow's nightmare game led more than a few fans to call for Zander Diamont to enter the game, but Kevin Wilson made it clear in his post-game presser that option was never on the table. Lagow certainly made some poor throws and decisions yesterday, but after a summer of practice and three games, it doesn't seem like the coaching staff is considering a change. Lagow has been far more good than bad to this point, and shuffling the depth chart after one bad day at the office would probably smack more of panic than savviness. The conversation will focus on the interceptions, but Lagow made multiple jaw-dropping throws yesterday and that kind of arm doesn't come through Bloomington often.
The other conversation we'll have is exhausting, but understandable. Indiana was bowl-eligible last year, predicted to do the same this year, Kevin Wilson has a shiny new contract and some stinging opinions about his own fans; all of which builds towards the prevailing fan sentiment: shouldn't we be past this by now? Shouldn't we be better than losing to our peers at home?
Yes, Indiana is banged up. Two NFL-caliber offensive linemen missed the game and the offense felt that loss in all phases. Trying to get the new guys on the same page lead to unblocked blitzes, missed assignments, and a talent disparity compared to a very good Wake defensive line. As I pointed in my game preview, whoever won the line of scrimmage while the Hoosiers were on offense would likely have the biggest say in the result, and Wake Forest earned a resounding victory in that regard.
As of this morning, Wake is about ten spots south of Indiana on the S&P+ ratings, with both teams far better than the hapless rosters their histories would indicate they posses. But, still, this game was at home! Injuries aside, shouldn't a bowl-worthy Hoosiers team make this game a footnote on the way to 4 or 5 Big Ten wins? After sixteen hours of screaming into the Twitter void and sleeping, I think I can confidently say that the the answer is: yes, Indiana should have won this game and can't be excused for failing to, but they also have nine more games to make this right. I'm not prepared to make changes at quarterback, at coach, or elsewhere just yet. Not until we lose to the Rutger, at least.
So what's next? Following Indiana's last debilitating non-conference loss, they headed out to Columbia, Missouri and dispatched of #18 Mizzou in the program's biggest win in over a decade. A similar challenge awaits the Hoosiers this year, with a likely top-15 Michigan State team coming off a tough home loss to Wisconsin coming into Bloomington. Last season, Indiana played the East's Big Three tough, taking Ohio State and Michigan to each game's last play in Bloomington. The Hoosiers were plucky in East Lansing before the Spartans piled it on late in the fourth, but now a Spartans team with a lot of questions to answer themselves, must come to Bloomington for a rare 8 PM kickoff.
Can we forgive this team in time to get back to Memorial Stadium, in full force and throat, to cheer them on against the Spartans? Perhaps a rowdy home atmosphere won't help the Hoosiers finally spring the big conference upset, but it can't possibly hurt.