Surging Hoosiers looking for final chapter on comeback trail
By MICHAEL MAROT
Tom Allen's words remain the same late in the season.
He is still talking about breakthrough wins, top 25-level defense and goals that Indiana can achieve. There's a bowl bid and a possible school record on the line this weekend at Purdue, and the timing of this year's Old Oaken Bucket game couldn't be much better.
The suddenly surging Hoosiers are brimming with confidence and are eager to close out the regular season on a rare three-game winning streak.
"It's all how you finish," Allen said. "We knew going into this last quarter of the season what we needed to do, and we have attacked each, one at a time. Now we're ready for this challenge, and we're going to put everything into this (game)."
Nothing has come easily for the Hoosiers (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) this season.
They are the only Football Bowl Subdivision team to face three top-five opponents and went into last weekend as one of only two programs in the nation to play five ranked teams. West Virginia was the other.
Indiana's six-game home schedule included dates with the league's two division champs, Ohio State and Wisconsin, as well as Michigan. They blew a late lead at Michigan State and got blown out at Penn State. Hurricane Irma even forced the cancellation of a seemingly predictable home victory over Florida International and set off a midseason scramble to find a 12th opponent.
Even after losing their first six league games and finding themselves on the verge of being left out of the bowl picture, the Hoosiers stuck together and changed everything.
The offense has produced more than 900 yards and 65 points in back-to-back wins.
The defense has 12 sacks and six turnovers in its last eight quarters and just pitched its second shutout of the season and its first against a conference foe since 1993.
"I just think it's been focus and everything's been clicking as a team in all phases," senior cornerback Rashard Fant said after Saturday's 41-0 victory over Rutgers. "We just have to keep that going and stay focused, stay locked in and keep believing in one another."
But Indiana is only two-thirds of the way home as it tries to change the school's historical reputation for coming up short late in the season. The last time the Hoosiers won their final three regular-season games was 1946. In fact, the Hoosiers have won two of the last three just 11 times since capturing their last Big Ten title in 1967.
A win against the archrival Boilermakers (5-6, 3-5) on the road would give Indiana a record fifth consecutive win in the series and a third straight bowl bid for only the second time in school history.
They are playing with momentum as well as motivation for the second straight season.
None of it surprises Allen.
"I just think that as a season wears along, teams either do this or they do this," Allen said, gesturing up and down. "You want them to be doing this (going up) at this time of the year. Our guys did it last year defensively, and they're doing it again this year defensively. We have a system we believe in. We coach to that system. The kids have bought in, and I expect them to be playing their best ball at this time of the year. That's what we want."
If they keep it up, the Hoosiers could cement the legacy of a strange but remarkable season with a breakthrough moment.
"We fully understand the magnitude of the game. We understand that both teams have five wins and know what is at stake for both sides," Allen said. "We understand we have to be at our very, very best this week."
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Updated November 20, 2017