Photo courtesy of IU Athletics
evin Wilson had said earlier this season that he wanted his team to start strong and finish strong â€“ and that he liked how it had responded in that sense â€“ but he joked that he hadnâ€™t said anything about how they played in the middle of the game.
On Saturday night that was the case again, as the Indiana Hoosiers (1-11, 0-7) concluded their trying season with another loss and the Purdue Boilermakers (6-6, 4-4) won back the Old Oaken Bucket to earn bowl eligibility.
Indiana started out strong and took a 14-10 lead on the strength of the ground game â€“ a 50-yard scamper by Stephen Houston (who finished with 129 yards on only seven carries) and a 6-yard burst by Dâ€™Angelo Roberts providing the scoring â€“ and the Boilermakers hurt themselves with penalties, killing their first two drives due to mistakes and nearly submarining their first scoring drive.
Purdue seemed to figure out what Indiana was trying to do and seized momentum on both sides of the ball before the clock reached the eight-minute mark in the second quarter.
The Hoosier offense stalled out on the 15-yard line, forcing IU to settle for a 32-yard field goal from Mitch Ewald, and the Boilermakers had a great kickoff return to the Indiana eight-yard line on their next possession, which resulted in Ralph Bolden reaching pay dirt from eight yards out on the very next play. Boldenâ€™s touchdown opened the floodgates, and began a stretch of 23 unanswered points for Purdue.
â€œI donâ€™t know exactly what it is,â€ said Wilson on his teamâ€™s struggles in the middle of games this year. â€œI donâ€™t know if itâ€™s fatigueâ€¦ whether itâ€™s inability to adjust, make play calls or scheme adjustments I donâ€™t know. Bottom line, we have yet to play really clean and consistent. Weâ€™ve had spurts but we havenâ€™t collectively put it together in all three phases.â€
Boldenâ€™s run and an 11-yard burst from junior wideout Antavian Edison sandwiched three field goals from Carson Wiggs to provide the Boilermakersâ€™ scoring run and when Edison reached the end zone with 11:04 remaining, the game looked as though it may have been out of reach.
The Hoosiers refused to go away though, mounting an eight-play, 76-yard drive, which was capped by Robertsâ€™ second touchdown of the day. The Indiana defense held on the next possession and forced a punt, but saw Purdue punter Cody Webster place a kick at the Indiana one-yard line.
Despite such bleak field position, Roberson began to mount a drive. Nick Stoner drew a defensive holding play to pull IU from the shadow of its end zone and Roberson gained another 24 yards on a pass and a run.
On the next play, Roberson went deep downfield for Stoner and threw a jump ball that was intercepted by Josh Johnson, the Purdue cornerback.
The call was a controversial one, as it didnâ€™t appear that either Stoner or Johnson had clear possession when they went to the ground. Regardless, the officials made their call and the game was right back in the hands of the maligned Hoosier defense.
â€œ(The officials) just explained that it wasnâ€™t reviewable,â€ Wilson said when explaining how his conversation with the officiating crew went. â€œMy comment was that it was on the ground and it got taken away but they said the way it was called it wasnâ€™t reviewableâ€¦ There are certain dynamics in calls that have significant guidelines. I didnâ€™t question those guys at all.â€
The defense had a chance to stop Purdue after the turnover, as Indiana was still in possession of two timeouts and would have gotten the ball back for its offense had they been able to stop the Boilermakers on their first series. On third down-and-six though, the Hoosier defense allowed an eight-yard dash by freshman Akeem Hunt to seal the game and close the books on the 2011 IU football season.
â€œThey need a lot of work,â€ Wilson said of his defense after the game. â€œSize, strength, schematically understanding adjustments to concepts or coverageâ€™s.â€ Before talking about a play on Purdueâ€™s final drive where a defensive player lined up late because he was late communicating the play to his teammates. â€œBut our offense has things to work on as wellâ€¦ Everyoneâ€™s going to be in bowl games except us it seems like, so weâ€™re going to start on Monday working hard in the weight room gaining some size and improving our strength level. Our young players need to physically mature.â€
The young players will be counted on for more than physical maturation though, as the departing senior class forms somewhat of a leadership void that will need to be filled in order for this team to succeed in the future.
â€œTheyâ€™ve got real quality guys coming back, so theyâ€™ll be fine,â€ said Max Dedmond, who played his last game in an Indiana uniform on Saturday. â€œThey just need to keep working and building the program. Iâ€™ve got confidence theyâ€™ll do well.â€
With that, the Hoosiers close the books on a disappointing 2011 football season that has seen them drop 11 of 12 games and lose every game against an FBS (formerly Division I) opponent. Kevin Wilson and his staff realize that IU needs work heading into the 2012 season and that this team and the staff should look different in the spring.
â€œI always start with me as a coach and us as a staff and take a look at what weâ€™re doing,â€ said Wilson. â€œThe critical deal will be what me and my coaches do to improve, our players have got to work hard and we need to recruit well, but the real deal will be us as coaches in terms of connecting and being a better prepared team.â€
Weâ€™ll get our first look at would should be a different looking Indiana team in the spring of 2012.