Indiana seeking stronger finishing touch during stretch run
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana keeps searching for solutions to its feeble finishes.
The Hoosiers couldn’t make the final play to upset No. 1 Ohio State. They blew a 25-point third-quarter lead against Rutgers. They allowed No. 7 Michigan State to turn a competitive game into a 26-point rout in the closing minutes. Last weekend, No. 10 Iowa pulled away in the fourth quarter and hung on for a 35-27 victory.
The next chance for Indiana comes Saturday when No. 15 Michigan visits Bloomington for the first time in five years.
"I feel like we’ve made progress and we’re competing, but we just haven’t taken that last step," offensive lineman Dan Feeney said. "I feel like we’re 80 or 90 percent of the way there, but we just have to take that last step and find a way to finish."
Five weeks ago, the Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5 Big Ten) looked like they were in prime position to earn their first bowl bid in eight years. They had just completed a perfect non-conference season and only needed two wins to complete the elusive postseason quest.
Since then, they’ve lost five straight — three to unbeaten teams, one when they were without their starting quarterback or running back, and the inexplicable debacle against Rutgers.
They’re still two wins short of bowl-eligibility. After Michigan, the Hoosiers visit struggling Maryland and rival Purdue, looking for their first conference road win since Oct. 27, 2012.
"I think some people on the team are looking for someone else to make plays instead of making them themselves," safety Chase Dutra said. "We’re great in the third quarter and for some reason, we’re not able to finish in the fourth quarter."
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld sees it another way.
He said the Hoosiers have been working on little things, such as maintaining their focus at practice from start to finish. But that’s not all.
"I think we need to feed off each other a little better, like when the defense made a goal-line stop against Western Kentucky and we went 99 yards," Sudfeld said. "It’s little things like that."
Perhaps the bigger problem is that nobody can find a common denominator.
After the Rutgers game, Sudfeld and coach Kevin Wilson both suggested Indiana players were celebrating too early.
And last week, after a bye, Wilson acknowledged he might have made a mistake by not going for it on a fourth-down play when he could have stopped Rutgers’ momentum and potentially put the game away.
"If you look at mathematical stats, and I’m not huge on looking at them, but mathematical stats say we punt too much and the odds of getting conversions — and really what you need are conversions that get the points," Wilson said.
Indiana’s inability to close out games predates Wilson’s arrival before the 2011 season. And even though Wilson has added size, depth and toughness to the program, he still appears to be trying to change the culture of a team that hasn’t yet committed itself to finishing strong.
"Some plays we leave on the field, plays that need to be made," receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. said. "Or we have mental errors that can’t happen. The last couple of weeks, we’ve been playing great opponents and when you make those mental errors, they capitalize on them."