All artists need a pen and good canvas.
For Indiana football, that pen was numerous playcalls and decisions be they on the field or off. Their canvas? Beautiful, picturesque Lucas Oil Stadium in the heart of downtown Indianapolis. In an ideal world, Hoosier turf.
But this is the real world and, more importantly, this is the Indiana University football program.
Saturday afternoon’s 21-14 loss to Louisville was a love letter to this entity, all it’s meant and done with a particular emphasis on the past two years. Yes that includes those otherworldly highs and the crushing lows.
There was a miserable first half that saw the Cardinals go up by a (seemingly) insurmountable 21 points as a comedy of errors kept the Hoosiers from advancing the ball downfield in any meaningful way.
No, not that interception. That was probably gonna end up in a punt anyway and I don’t think the pass was off by that much. It was the multiple blown coverages that allowed Jack Plummer, he who completed 57% of pass attempts on the day, to find the same guy way downfield multiple times.
It was uninspired play calling that led to Tayven Jackson taking the ball on the ground multiple times or passing to a receiver who was short of the sticks. Or a snap that flew beyond the quarterback and way into the backfield for a loss of 13 yards.
Almost everything that couldn’t go Indiana’s way didn’t. Louisville was flying high and it looked like things were making way for an embarrassing blowout.
All the while, Indiana fans were outnumbered by those of Louisville. Indiana, a university with one of the largest alumni bases in the country and in a city absolutely full of said alumni was outnumbered by Louisville, a city multiple hours away albeit in driving distance for a day trip.
There wasn’t a shuttle system to ferry students from Bloomington to Indianapolis and there didn’t appear to be a system to get students from IUPUI, an IU satellite campus with ~27,000 students, into the stadium.
It doesn’t look like the word got out that this game was happening and, if it did, can you blame fans. There isn’t exactly an abundance of energy for a team that’s has 2-10 and 4-8 records the past two seasons after perhaps an all-time high in energy heading into 2021.
Energy that Louisville had thanks to a member of the Indiana football rogues gallery: Jeff Brohm.
Brohm is, of course, the former head coach at Purdue where he went 4-1 against Tom Allen’s Indiana. He of the explosive offense that tends to capitalize on the latter’s defensive system. Again, recall those multiple explosive plays in the passing game.
It was, all around, a bit embarrassing. Not to mention the fact that Indiana has cancelled the next two games in this series, only adding fuel to a fire growing by the day.
But then, hope! A surprise onside kick to open the second half followed by a touchdown pass from newly-named starter Tayven Jackson to human highlight reel Jaylin Lucas.
The momentum shift was evident. Now it was Louisville making the mistakes and failing to convert as the Hoosiers pounced on the energy. Jackson treated the fans who showed up to arguably the most exciting performance by a passer wearing cream and crimson since Michael Penix Jr. himself.
With one final drive, he looked the part even more. A deep ball followed by some trickery from offensive coordinator Walt Bell led to Jackson diving for the pylon late in the fourth like Penix in that historic 2020 win over Penn State.
Everyone noticed the similarity, but it was short (unlike Mike!). So, with all the momentum in the world with a yard and change to go on fourth down, Indiana took a timeout to cook something up for this crucial play.
Maybe more trickery after whatever it was that Bell called on that drive? An Eagles-esque quarterback sneak that seems to work every time? A pass? A delayed handoff with multiple pulling lineme- wait no that can’t be it.
That was the call? On fourth and the game? Without a timeout to think things over? No, it can’t be. Indiana’s offensive line performed admirably all afternoon but did not show the required beef to make something like that into a touchdown.
Right after that Indiana let Louisville get out of the shadow of its own goalline by allowing a 13 yard run. From the quarterback. Which is also how the game then ended a few plays later.
It was error after excruciating unforced error following some great plays to potentially tie things up. The program’s less-than-illustrious history summed up in a tight 60 minutes of a single, definitely normal, football game.
Indiana is going to hear about the cancelled series, particularly this game for quite a while. The program couldn’t fill the lower level of an NFL stadium in its own backyard in a city its fanbase pretty much dominates.
The lone light from this: Jackson looks to be The Guy at quarterback going forward. That, however, comes with some pause.
If the Hoosiers did indeed find another quality quarterback after the last one left the hills of Bloomington for the rain-soaked city of Seattle (and also vaunted offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and his team full of NFL talent at receiver, them too) they cannot, under any circumstances, let this end in similar fashion.
With college football at a crossroads, Indiana can’t afford to be unwatchable in a losing effort again.