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Forget the Gator Bowl? Tom Allen could never

Hoosiers using last year’s postseason trip as a lesson in what not to do this week

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 02 Taxslayer Gator Bowl - Indiana v Tennessee Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The postgame Gatorade shower was intended for Jeremy Pruitt, but Tom Allen was the one who soaked it in.

Usually, this victory ritual takes place on the winning sideline, or somewhere more confined to the winning team’s personnel. But after the 2020 Gator Bowl, there was a snag somewhere inside the natural order of this postgame rite, and Tennessee players didn’t find their coach until it was too late. Pruitt was standing at midfield, leaning in to embrace Allen when his players found it appropriate to lift the big, orange cooler and turn it upside down. Most of the frosty liquid fell on Pruitt’s shoulders, but plenty still cascaded onto Allen and left him sopping wet.

Indiana’s 23-22 defeat was the injury, the unintended Gatorade shower was the insult.

NCAA Football: Gator Bowl-Indiana vs Tennessee Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Consider it one of the many pieces to last January’s collapse that Indiana hasn’t forgotten. The Hoosiers stumbled and bumbled their way through their final quarter of action last season, earning one more numbing defeat in a decade full of them. Nights like that aren’t easily flushed, though Allen wouldn’t want to even if he could. He’s used that trip to Jacksonville to spur his team through the past 12 months, and as the Hoosiers prepare to return to Florida for Saturday’s Outback Bowl matchup with Ole Miss, that loss and the way it unfolded has been top of mind for the Hoosiers.

“I choose not to forget about things like that, (but) in a positive way,” Allen said. “That’s where, (when) we talk about earmuffs and blinders, it doesn’t mean we’re deaf and blind. Those things are filters. There are things from that game I don’t want us to ever forget.”

You know, like the coaching errors, the lack of execution in each phase on the field, and the way that result hurt — because it really, really hurt. It was a total system failure, the kind Indiana’s program has patented through years of ... well ... doing IU Football Things. But the Hoosiers made the most of the ensuing months, winning matchups they typically lose, building newfound belief in their locker room and reaching heights their program has seldom, if ever, reached in the span of a single season.

But there’s more that Indiana wants from this campaign, such as atonement for a bad night last January.

“We’ve been reminded of that a lot this past week,” IU receiver Ty Fryfogle said. “We don’t just want to go to a bowl game. We want to win a bowl game. So we’re taking this game very seriously.”

Allen has his pick of motivational tools to use this week, and he’s hinted that he’ll touch on them all. There’s the New Year’s Six snub, the disrespect from IU’s own conference and the fact that this historic season is ending not with a marquee matchup, but with a game against a sub-.500 team.

At the top of that list, though, Allen is pointing to last season’s Gator Bowl as a reminder of how far they’ve come and where they don’t want to be. By holding up Jan. 2, 2020 as a lesson in what not to do, Allen is trying to be on the right side of the Gatorade shower on Jan. 2, 2021.

“All three phases were affected in that game,” Allen said. “This week, with the way we’re approaching things, those things are brought up in the right way, at the right time for the right purpose to be able to use as teaching (points), as fuel, and as reminders for what happens when you don’t finish.”