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Indiana Football Won At Wisconsin Two Years Ago Today, But It's Been Ugly Ever Since

Tom Allen had Indiana football in the top 10 in 2020, highlighted by a 14-6 win at Wisconsin two years ago, today. But since then, the Hoosiers are 6-18 across two seasons with a bleak outlook for the future. It's Allen's job to fix it, and this is a crucial offseason.
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MADISON, Wisc. – Indiana players bombarded coach Tom Allen's postgame interview on ESPN with infinite love for their leader.

"This is the best coach in America right here."

"Recruits, come play for this man."

"Best coach in the nation, man, let's go."

"Love you, coach."

Indiana had just defeated No. 16 Wisconsin 14-6 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Tiawan Mullen, who made four tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and a forced fumble, couldn't contain his emotions after the big win, screaming and jumping on Allen's back as he ran off the field.

En route to first-team All-American accolades, linebacker Micah McFadden led Indiana with nine tackles and two sacks. Jack Tuttle stepped in for an injured Michael Penix Jr. at quarterback and completed 13-of-22 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. 

"Most people wrote us off because we lost Michael Penix, a tremendous player,” Allen said. “We are a football team. That team showed up tonight."

Indiana moved to 6-1 on the season with its only loss coming in a 42-35 shootout at No. 3 Ohio State, and Allen was named 2020 AFCA National Coach of the Year. The Hoosiers claimed victories over Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin in the same season for the first time in program history, and vaulted to No. 7 in the AP poll. Indiana lost Outback Bowl 20-16 to Ole Miss, but all signs were pointing up for a program desperate to create winning tradition.

That win at Wisconsin was two years ago, today, on Dec. 5, 2020. 

Instead of continuing on that upward trajectory, or at least sustaining a competitive baseline of bowl eligibility, Indiana football collapsed. And fast.

The Hoosiers entered the 2021 season ranked No. 17 in the preseason poll but got punched in the mouth in the season opener at Iowa. Indiana allowed a 56-yard touchdown run on the fourth play of the game, and Penix threw a pick-six three plays later. In front of a raucous crowd at Kinnick Stadium, the game was over within the first three minutes. 

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Much of Indiana's 2020 season followed a similar script, losing seven games by 21 or more points. The Hoosiers fell to 2-10 with wins over Idaho and Western Kentucky and finished the season on an eight-game losing streak. The Hoosiers looked like a team that felt they could simply show up and win after a 14-7 stretch from 2019-20. Indiana also dealt with an absurd amount of injuries, which led to walk-on quarterback Grant Gremel starting the season finale at Purdue alongside a backfield consisting only of walk-on running backs. 

The defense suffered its fair share of injuries, too, including Mullen, and gave up a Big Ten-high 33.3 points per game under first-year coordinator Charlton Warren. Despite returning the majority of defensive personnel that helped generate 20 takeaways in 2020, that number dropped to nine in 2021. 

The offseason came with major roster overhauls, most notably Penix transferring to Washington where he now leads the nation with 4,354 passing yards in 2022. Indiana's quarterback situation has been a mess ever since. Donaven McCulley – the highest-ranked quarterback recruit in program history – asked to move to wide receiver because he always wanted to play receiver. A rough freshman season that was supposed to be spent as a redshirt but was instead played behind a shaky offensive line in a failing offensive system probably caused the desire to switch, too.

Indiana fired offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan and hired new running back and receiver coaches, but kept offensive line coach Darren Hiller, only to fire him six weeks into the season. Allen brought in offensive coordinator Walt Bell to run a fast-paced offense with Missouri quarterback transfer Connor Bazelak and a heavy amount of first-year transfers at running back and wide receiver. 

After a 3-0 start, the offense hit a wall and fell apart in losses to Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers. Three and outs appeared more likely than scoring drives by midseason, leading to another quarterback carousel in the final weeks. Jack Tuttle suffered a shoulder injury before halftime of his first start, allowing Brendan Sorsby and Dexter Williams II to make their college debuts. There were flashes of real promise with Williams in the backfield next to Jaylin Lucas, but Williams suffered a scary non-contact knee injury against Purdue. 

Allen took over defensive play calling in 2022, but Indiana allowed more points per game than any Big Ten team for a second consecutive season. Allen was frustrated by tackling issues all season, and only six Power 5 teams gave up more yards per game than Indiana's 450.3. 

From a wins perspective, Indiana made meager improvements – mainly because 2021 was such a disaster – and doubled its total from two to four in 2022. Looking back, if you told me Indiana would beat Illinois and Michigan State this year, I'd say the Hoosiers were headed to a bowl game. The Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers losses made that impossible.

And as a whole, Indiana didn't have the personnel to win at the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis, and it lacked game-changing playmakers outside of Lucas. Credit injuries and a grueling Big Ten East schedule, as well, but Allen shoulders the blame, too. He's been unable to find difference-making replacements for offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and Kane Wommack, who were huge reasons for Indiana's success in 2019 and 2020. As a result, Northwestern is the only Big Ten team with a worse record than Indiana since the start of the 2021 season.

There's thousands of additional words to explain how and why Indiana has gone from its win at Wisconsin two years ago to the spot it's in now, but that's the crux. 

After a 6-18 stretch from 2021-22, Indiana football is in a downright ugly state. It's already lost 10 players to the transfer portal with at least twice that number still to come, and 15 players have either declared for the NFL Draft or exhausted their collegiate eligibility. Allen already ranted about the impact of NIL on his program, which adds another concerning variable that Indiana must get right. It's a stark contrast from the scene in Madison when players sung Allen's praises.

Indiana will not fire Allen with his massive contract buyout, so the upcoming weeks represent a vital stretch. Allen built a winning team and a strong culture in 2019 and 2020, accomplishing certain feats no other Indiana coach can claim.

But all momentum from those seasons is long gone, and now it's now Allen's responsibility to fix things. Finding a recipe to rekindle that success will be a major challenge with the way his program has fallen apart since winning at Wisconsin just two years ago.

  • INDIANA FOOTBALL TRANSFER PORTAL TRACKER: In our Indiana football transfer portal tracker, you can find a complete list of Hoosiers that have entered the transfer portal, declared for the NFL Draft, exhausted their collegiate eligibility and players that are transferring to Indiana for the 2023 season. We will frequently update this list throughout the offseason. CLICK HERE
  • MCCULLOUGH IN TRANSFER PORTAL: Dasan McCullough was the highest-ranked recruit in program history, but he's leaving the Indiana football program after one season. CLICK HERE
  • INDIANA HIRES O-LINE COACH BOSTAD: Indiana football announced on Friday that Bob Bostad will be the team's new offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Bostad has experience at Wisconsin and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, among other stops. CLICK HERE
  • DEXTER WILLIAMS UPDATE: Indiana football gave an injury update on redshirt sophomore quarterback Dexter Williams II, who suffered a right knee injury on Saturday against Purdue. CLICK HERE
  • LUCAS BIG TEN RETURNER OF THE YEAR: Jaylin Lucas headlined a group of seven Indiana football players that earned All-Big Ten distinction for defense or special teams on Monday. Lucas was named the Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year, and Tiawan Mullen, Cam Jones, Aaron Casey, Dasan McCullough, Charles Campbell and James Evans received honorable mentions. CLICK HERE