Indiana coach Tom Allen called the team's 38-31 win at Nebraska in on Oct. 26, 2019 a 'breakthrough' for the program.
Following 5-7 records in Allen's first two full seasons in 2017 and 2018, Indiana finally secured that elusive sixth win in Lincoln, Neb. to reach bowl eligibility. The vision Allen was promising to players, recruits and fans was starting to come true.
"The history is what it is, but we're making changes now and that's what we're selling to recruits," Allen said after the Nebraska win in 2019. "The bottom line is eventually you have to start doing it on the field, and I get that. I was born at night but not last night. The bottom line is you have to show evidence on the field that the breakthrough is actually coming, and it's actually going to happen."
Fast forward nearly three years, and program has experienced plenty of ups and downs. Following bowl appearances and a combined 14-7 record in 2019 and 2020, Indiana collapsed to a 2-10 record in a 2021 season that started with sky-high expectations.
Allen and the Hoosiers are now trying to rebuild the momentum and belief from years past, and they find themselves in a somewhat similar situation to their last trip to Lincoln in 2019. No, Indiana can't punch its ticket to a bowl game in Week 5, but Saturday is as close to a must-win game as it gets for Indiana.
Looking at the big picture, matchups against No. 4 Michigan, No. 11 Penn State and No. 3 Ohio State can be penciled in as losses. Michigan State stands a 2-2 after a blowout loss at home to Minnesota, but that's a road game in which I don't see Indiana winning. That leaves four games – road trips to Nebraska and Rutgers, as well as home games against Maryland and Purdue – as the Hoosiers' most likely opportunities at wins. They'll need three of them to qualify for a bowl.
Indiana's fifth-year linebacker Cam Jones remembers the importance of the 2019 win at Nebraska when he made three tackles there as a sophomore, and he's looking forward to returning to that hostile environment with plenty at stake.
"That was a win that we needed to have, and it was definitely a breakthrough in the  season," Jones said. "So being able to go back there and compete against those guys and be able to bring home a win, it means a lot."
Nebraska won five-straight matchups from 1975 to 2016, which included an almost 40-year hiatus, but Indiana leads the all-time series 10-8-3. On Tuesday, Jones said the team discussed how Indiana hasn't won back-to-back games against Nebraska since the 1956 and 1959 seasons.
"It's a game that we can put in history and we can write about it later down the road," Jones said. "It's one that we really want."
Nebraska is favored by 5.5 points in this matchup, according to the SI Sportsbook. Home field advantage for Nebraska certainly plays into this, and Indiana didn't handle a road environment at Cincinnati well, snowballing into a 28-point halftime deficit.
The Cornhuskers are coming off a bye week, which could prove especially important for a team undergoing multiple coaching changes. Former head coach Scott Frost was fired after a 45-42 home loss to Georgia Southern, and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander was fired after a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma at home.
Interim head coach Mickey Joseph knows the importance of the game for his own job security, saying the next eight weeks serve as his interview as Nebraska conducts a national search for a new head coach. And after a 1-3 start to the year, a win could do a lot for the team's mentality moving forward.
"Beating Indiana is the number one goal," Joseph said. "But it's really important for this football team just to get some confidence that they can start something and finish it."
I think this matchup comes down whether Indiana can put together its most complete game, offensively. The Hoosiers have started slow in all four games to start the 2022 season, scoring just nine of their 115 points in the first quarter. That has to change on Saturday.
On the other hand, Nebraska's defense hasn't been able to stop anyone at any point this season. Here's a quick summary of Nebraska's 2022 defense and where it ranks among 131 FBS teams on a per-game basis.
- Total yards allowed: 514 – 127th
- Rushing yards: 233.5 – 127th
- Passing yards: 280.5 – 115th
- Points allowed: 35.5 – 114th
Each of these stats are the worst of any Big Ten team, and the Cornhuskers are also last in sacks (4) and opponent third down conversion rate (52.5). In short, Nebraska has been one of the worst defensive teams in the country in 2022.
Indiana's offense has struggled with consistency, but when quarterback Connor Bazelak and the Hoosiers find their rhythm, their rapid pace is tough to stop. He'll have to be more efficient than 31-for-66 passing like last week against Cincinnati, but the Nebraska defense is evidently a step below Cincinnati.
Indiana's defense has had its fair share of downfalls, too, and Nebraska presents a few dynamic players on offense alongside quarterback Casey Thompson. Running back Anthony Grant rushed for over 100 yards in his first three games, including a 189-yard, two-touchdown effort in Nebraska's win over North Dakota. LSU transfer wide receiver Trey Palmer put up 92 yards and a score against Oklahoma, and the Indiana secondary is coming off a game where it gave up touchdown passes of 75, 34 and 32 yards.
This leads me to believe it will be a high-scoring matchup, and in the end, I see Indiana winning this game 37-33.
Related stories on Indiana football:
- HOW TO WATCH: Indiana (3-1) travels to Nebraska (1-3) for a Week 5 matchup on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET from Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. Here's how to watch, with game time and TV information, the latest on the point spread and three things to see from Indiana. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA WEEK 5 DEPTH CHART, INJURY NOTES: Indiana football (3-1) travels to Lincoln, Neb. on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff against the Cornhuskers and interim head coach Mickey Joseph. Here's Indiana's Week 5 depth chart, as well as some quick injury updates. CLICK HERE
- CAM JONES PODCAST: On this week's Episode 5 of Hoosier Roundtable Podcast, Indiana linebacker Cam Jones was awarded the Terry Tallen Football Leadership Scholarship, and his reaction was caught on camera! Shot at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, take a look at the full podcast video, or read the transcript summary. CLICK HERE