At most schools, Homecoming is a time to head back to the alma mater, talk about all the crazy times in the dorms, what bars you made out with strangers at, and then you get to watch the football team win 49-0 against Division 2 East Central Wyoming Tech or something like that.
At Indiana, you can do most of those things too — except for the last part. And one of the strangest trends in the recent tortured Sisyphean history of Indiana football is the team’s inability to win on Homecoming weekend. In fact, you have to go back to when Bill Lynch was coaching to find a Homecoming victory - 2010 against Arkansas State, in a wild 36-34 nailbiter over the Red Wolves.
Let’s look at the most recent Homecoming games for Indiana, and the frustrating results associated with this weekend:
This was Kevin Wilson’s first year at IU, a forgettable 1-11 season, and Homecoming was no different. The Hoosiers lost 59-38 to Nowrthwestern in a game where the Hoosiers gave up 616 yards of offense to Dan Persa and the Wildcats. Unlike other vintage high-scoring IU games, this one never even got close, as Northwestern was up 38-21 by halftime.
In 2012, Homecoming weekend was the start of a stretch in which IU lost three games by a total of eight points. On a beautiful noon kickoff day, the Hoosiers got up 17-0 early on a mediocre Michigan State team. But after halftime, the IU offense completely fell apart, and the Spartans kept chipping away at the Indiana lead until finally taking the lead in the fourth quarter and winning the Spittoon by the score of 31-27. Michigan State was led by Le’Veon Bell’s 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns that day. Wonder what happened to that guy.
In the file of “Stupid IU Football Endings” this one may take the cake. In this early November Homecoming, IU was down 35-13 with 6:24 left in the third quarter. That’s when the Hoosiers scored 26 unanswered points off of 4 touchdowns to retake the lead. But down 39-35, Philip Nelson threw a 50-yard touchdown to Maxx Williams and the Gophers retook the lead. Still, Indiana had three minutes to get the ball downfield, and the offense was humming by that point. But in the closing seconds and IU knocking on the game-winning score, Kevin Wilson called for a lateral, which was fumbled, and the Gophers recovered to end the game.
On the way out of Memorial Stadium, I heard an older fan grumble “These guys think they’re the smartest guys in the room.” He may have had a point.
Indiana welcomed back Michigan State to Bloomington for Homecoming in 2014, a week after Nate Sudfeld separated his shoulder in Iowa City to end his season. A young Zander Diamont took over as starter for this game and played some thrilling football — for the first quarter and a half. IU even took a 17-14 lead on the 8th-ranked Spartans after a Diamont touchdown run in the second quarter. But after that, everything fell apart. MSU scored 42 unanswered points to win the game 56-17, and finished with 662 yards of offense to IU’s 224.
Indiana’s first game against Nebraska in almost 40 years gave the Hoosiers a great opportunity to knock off a top-10 Husker team (yes, Nebraska was in the top 10 just two years ago). But the start of the game was disastrous - Nebraska scored an early touchdown, field goal, and pick-six to take a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. IU eventually found its footing, but a 72-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Armstrong to Stanley Morgan put the Huskers ahead for good. Nebraska won 27-22 in one of the few highlights of the Mike Riley era.
Indiana has seemingly always played Michigan to the wire but fallen short, and last year’s Homecoming game was no exception. Down 20-10, Indiana made a thrilling comeback in the fourth quarter, and Griffin Oakes hit a game-tying field goal at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. Of course, Karan Higdon, who ran for over 200 yards on the day, ran it in for Michigan on the first play from scrimmage in OT, and the Hoosiers were unable to respond.
As you can see, the unfortunate recent history of Homecoming games ties nicely into the trials and tribulations of Indiana Hoosiers football. And it will be up to the Hoosiers to reverse that trend against Iowa tomorrow.