BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Coach Tom Allen looks around Indiana’s meeting room and sees a team capable of making the postseason. At least the Hoosiers still have a chance.
Despite their six-game Big Ten losing streak, an expanding injury list and their seemingly long odds, all the Hoosiers must do to qualify for their third straight bowl game is win their final three games.
“There is a sense of urgency that I believe we have to have and we will have,” Allen said Monday, one day after he asked each senior to stand in front of their teammates during a meeting. “We have some great leaders in that senior class. I wanted the whole team to look them in the eye and know as they prepare for this huge game, we all understand where we are and what we have to do.”
Win out or go home for the holidays.
It would be easy to discount the Hoosiers (3-6, 0-6 Big Ten) based solely on the numbers. Inside the locker room, the players know better.
Indiana is the only team in the country to play three top-five opponents this season, and five of its six conference losses came against Top 25 foes. The only other time the Hoosiers played five ranked teams in a season was 1961, and they’ve been competitive in virtually every game.
Even in their latest loss, 45-17 to Wisconsin on Saturday, the Hoosiers trailed 24-17 heading into the fourth quarter.
But close has never been good enough for Allen, and it won’t be during the closing stretch.
The Hoosiers head to Illinois (2-7, 0-6) on Saturday, then host Rutgers (4-5, 3-3) before finishing at rival Purdue (4-5, 2-2). Indiana has won two straight over the Fighting Illini and is seeking its second consecutive win over the Scarlet Knights and a school-record fifth in a row against the Boilermakers.
That’s a drastic shift from a brutal schedule that included home losses to Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin and road losses to Penn State and Michigan State. Those are the five best teams in the league and the two Big Ten division champs are likely on that list, too.
“We know what we have to do and we know what position we’re in,” linebacker Tegray Scales said. “We’re up for the challenge. Things in the Big Ten right now, things aren’t going our way. So we just need to bounce back and be ready to compete.”
The injury problem may not go away, though.
Quarterback Peyton Ramsey sat out last weekend with a knee injury and it was unclear whether he will reclaim the starting job this week. If not, fifth-year senior Richard Lagow, Ramsey’s predecessor, will take snaps for the second straight game.
Regardless of who plays, Indiana has no margin for error if it wants to become the second team in school history to play in three straight bowl games.
“These next three weeks, I only want dogs by my side,” safety Chase Dutra said after the loss to Wisconsin. “If you’re not coming in every single day to get better and get better every single day that you’re here for the next three weeks, I don’t want you to even come into the facility. I need some people who are coming out here and giving it all they got. I’m not saying anything. I know I already have those dudes right now.”