by Kent Sterling
It was homecoming at Indiana yesterday, meaning I “enjoyed” the game as a fan and didn’t cover it, so my anger over the bizarre decision to go for two twice rather than take extra points and then throw a backwards pass at the end of regulation simmered overnight.
This morning, my anger abated a bit as I read the game recap of the 42-39 loss to Minnesota that contained coach Kevin Wilson’s assessment that the calls were mistakes.
I like a guy who admits an error. After Wilson admits that the sidelines brain trust screwed up, what else is there for Hoosiers fans to wonder? The admission diffuses my frustration. It doesn’t change the fact that going for two down by two with 8:45 left in the game, going for two again with 5:33 left left. or throwing a backward pass with 25-seconds left in a three-point game from the Minnesota nine yard line represented three critical strategic errors.
Just for clarification, I was upset before the results. I hate people who criticize after the fact based solely upon the results, rather than the logic of the play. That goes back to listening to Billy Packer call college basketball games on NBC and CBS for over 30 years. Every shot that was made was a smart shot, and every shot that missed was a bad shot. Drove me nuts.
Wilson made the same ill-conceived two-point conversion decision at Michigan with 2:56 left in the third quarter down 42-40. Way too early to put at risk a single point to roll the dice on getting two. Hindsight is 20/20, but if Indiana had continued to kick extra points in the fourth quarter yesterday, they would have been down one-point during their last drive, meaning that a field goal wins the game rather than ties, and the temptation to aggressively pursue a touchdown would have been unnecessary.
There are plenty of ways that play that resulted in a fumble that sealed the win for Minnesota could have resulted in head scratching confusion rather than head banging fury – like if Tevin Coleman had fallen on the poorly thrown ball, or if quarterback Nate Sudfeld had waited for the play to develop to the point where Coleman was in front of him, or if Coleman had run the route in a way that he was in front of Sudfeld earlier.
There were plenty of events that conspired to screw that play up, and cause the worst possible result. Hoosier Football turned into a confederacy of dunces during that play after mounting a solid comeback effort against a team that was coming off wins against Northwestern and Nebraska.
So Indiana will have to win on the road at either Wisconsin or Ohio State to be in the hunt for a trip to a bowl, and that’s a shame because it was right there for them.
Wilson manned up and accepted the blame for the loss, and that’s entirely appropriate. He’s a educator, and teaching kids not to deflect blame when you are in charge is a valuable lesson – not as valuable as teaching them how to win a game, but valuable. Fans don’t pay to watch Wilson teach leadership. They want wins, and if school officials don’t want fans to bolt at the half, they are going to have to reward that faith.
Half of the portion of Hoosier Nation (it’s the Liechtenstein of college football fan base nations) who bolted for Nick’s and Kilroy’s before the late game fireworks sees what happened yesterday as “Indiana being Indiana,” and the other half see the Hoosiers playing competitive football in the Big Ten as a sign of progress. Some enlightened souls might be able to simultaneously see both.
Indiana is improving, and with the young core of the team developing on the job, they should be in a position to avoid the late game shenanigans that led to yet another defeat. Wilson needs to continue to learn as a head coach that his first responsibility is to out coach the fans, and whether or not he feels he regularly does that, the faction of fans who find it easy to ask, “What the hell is Wilson doing?” is growing.