We here at the Crimson Quarry have been absolutely delighted to see that #9WINDIANA has become less of a meme and more of a standard. As you know, IU sits at 7-4 entering the Old Oaken Bucket game on Saturday and with a bowl game pending that leaves two games to go with a sense that IU should win both.
But as I look back on a season that began in what seems like forever ago in August, the more I reflect, the more I realize something: Indiana has finally had luck in its favor.
After years of getting beaten down by various bad breaks such as horrid homecoming games, the kick being good, Kevin Wilson’s untimely (but deserved) firing, fourth-quarter leads slipping through fingertips and countless other instances, it feels like this year is certainly different.
Three games stand out to me where the luck has been apparent.
Didn’t think this one was going to be on here, did you?
I understand where you could be coming from, especially with a warm August feeling so distant as we now experience sunset at (checks notes) 5:30 p.m.
Without looking at the score, what was IU’s margin of victory though?
I’ll give you a moment
34-24 was the final, the line was IU -18.
And while IU certainly didn’t eek one out, it was clear throughout the game that the Hoosiers were still trying to find their footing under new offensive and defensive coordinators. Ball State loaded the box against Stevie Scott as he would finish the afternoon with only 48 yards on 19 carries, while Michael Penix Jr. would be the team’s leading rusher with 76 yards. On top of that, Penix threw two picks that were very freshman-esque.
This would be only one of two games Penix would play start to finish the entire year (Michigan State being the other).
The Hoosiers never lost control though, and that was thanks in part to kicker Logan Justus.
Here’s where a bit of the luck came into play.
The game was being played inside of Lucas Oil Stadium, and while the conditions outdoors weren’t terrible, they certainly wouldn’t be what you would imagine an opening day kickoff as overcast skies covered the area.
Obviously playing indoors is going to help the kicking game.
Justus went 4/4 on the day, making kicks from 30, 48, 49, and 50. He broke his personal best twice that day and while Justus has been a reliable kicker all year (14/14 FG, 39/40 PAT), kickers with accuracy like that aren’t common in college or even the NFL for that matter.
What if, after going 3/3 on the day, Justus misses the 50-yarder with 2:15 remaining, allowing Ball State to execute a 2-minute drill? It’s certainly a timeline I don’t want to explore.
Over the course of Maryland’s short stint in the Big Ten, it hasn’t been easy for IU to win in College Park.
There were two early signs that could have doomed IU into thinking this would be another long, soul-crushing afternoon out east.
The first being a tip-drill interception on the goal line caught by Maryland that would’ve put IU up 21-7 early in the 2nd quarter. Instead in the next four plays, Maryland went 80 yards to score and tie it up 14-14.
The second sign was another sudden disappearance from Penix as he would be out for the remainder of the game and Peyton Ramsey would have to step up.
He did just that for the most part. With roughly three quarters under his belt, Ramsey went 20-27 through the air for 193 yards and a touchdown and added on 46 yards rushing. That touchdown was a timely Dime to Nick Westbrook which would give IU the lead 24-21 heading into the half.
.@NickWestbrook5 laid out for this one & made an incredible grab for the @IndianaFootball TD. pic.twitter.com/Jj0hIrwYw5— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) October 19, 2019
The luck turned IU’s way towards the end of the ball game. It turned IU’s way twice as a matter of fact.
Down three with 3:50 left in the game, Maryland would have the opportunity to drive and score, but one of the most textbook strips in football history happened, and in IU’s favor.
Big play Hoosiers!@IndianaFootball comes up with the timely strip: pic.twitter.com/DUNytfSJfl— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) October 19, 2019
IU would recover and set up with a prime scoring opportunity, but due to conservative playcalling IU would only earn three points, giving Maryland an opportunity to drive down six with a little under three minutes left.
And drive they did. The Terps would cross into Hoosier territory with under a minute to play and a solid chance to win.
Then Reese Taylor happened.
The interception that sealed the win for @IndianaFootball!— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) October 19, 2019
You could say @CoachAllenIU and the team were pretty fired up! pic.twitter.com/UH7ZAwPpfU
To recap, we’ve all seen before how an IU 4th quarter lead has evaporated before our very eyes. To see not one but two game-winning drive opportunities end up in IU’s favor with turnovers is…unheard of.
First of all: Frott Scost (Editor’s note: Scott Fraud, thnx)
Secondly, that road win against Maryland was a massive sigh of relief, proving that Tom Allen could win on the road and that IU could close out games.
Leading up to the game was a nightmare though.
Throughout the week, Allen and Frost played things close to the chest as to not reveal who would be the team’s starting quarterback until either offense took the field in Lincoln.
And things, once again, showed signs of gloom and doom at the start as IU allowed Nebraska’s backup, Noah Vedral, to score a pair of touchdowns on the Huskers’ opening drives, putting them up 14-3 early in the contest. IU responded by scoring a touchdown on its second drive but Logan Justus missed the PAT, which is still his only miss on the year.
As Nebraska was well on their way to score its third touchdown in as many drives, Big Chu—I mean Allen Stallings IV—not only recovered a fumble but damn near scored on the thing, setting up for an IU touchdown on the next play.
You know Allen Stallings wanted this fumble return TD so bad.@IndianaFootball went on to score to take the lead. pic.twitter.com/x2gYE4PCAi— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 26, 2019
You know how I said earlier that kickers like Justus are hard to come by? Nebraska fans know all too well about that.
This season alone, Nebraska has had six (6!) different players kick either a PAT or field goal, going 11 of 19 on the latter this year. One of those eight misses came after IU’s fumble recovery turned touchdown.
As the second half rolled around IU recovered another fumble to force a turnover and convert it to a touchdown.
Finally, to cap things off, Nebraska set up for a 1st and 10 on IU’s 39 yard line down seven with a bit over five minutes left to play, but IU hunkered down for four consecutive solid plays concluded by good coverage from breakout freshman Tiawan Mullen as IU got the ball back on downs and was able to run the clock out to earn sweet victory number six.
Even with everything that broke IU’s way in this game, they still had to close things out on the defensive end for a second week in a row, and were able to come up big when needed.
Luck, fortuity, skill, whatever you want to call it doesn’t matter, but these crazy plays that define a season are beginning to lean towards the side of the Cream and Crimson. The road is long to the top, but this year can certainly be looked at as a damn good first step.