It was just a minute after the final whistle, and the postgame television interview was about to start, but Indiana coach Tom Allen had to step back for a bit. With tears streaming down his face, he needed to gather himself. He was too choked up to talk.
What happened Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., was that overwhelming.
And why not? Indiana beat Nebraska—the historic, tradition-rich Cornhuskers—38-31 at their Memorial Stadium on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon. It was the Hoosiers' third straight Big Ten win (something they haven't done since 1993) and second win in a row on the road where it took a ton of attitude and fortitude from everyone involved to get this done.
Yes, it was that special.
This is Indiana football now. They win. They go on the road—and win. They play without their starting quarterback—and win. They overcome their own mistakes—and win.
This is the new Indiana football.
The Hoosiers are 6-2 now and already bowl eligible before Halloween, something that's only happened five times ever in Indiana history. It hasn't happened in 26 years, not since 1993. They also did it in 1988, 1987 and 1967.
For most of those last 26 years, Indiana football has been mostly a joke. One losing season after another was usually the norm, and if the Hoosiers did make it to a bowl game, it was usually just barely. They were never impressive.
These Hoosiers are impressive.
When Tom Allen came to Bloomington, he wanted to see Indiana football change. He's a Hoosier by birth—born and raised in New Castle—and he's an Indiana Hoosier by choice. The culture needed to change. He knew Indiana football could win, but it was going to take a lot of change—change in attitude, change in commitment, change in talent.
So when he pictured Indiana football changing, this is what he saw: players celebrating in a euphoric locker room, coaches hugging and smiling, tears of joy flowing down cheeks in every corner of the room.
And doing it over and over, week after week.
Ah, the new Indiana.
"I don't care what anyone says, this is awesome,'' Allen said. "This is a pretty special day.''
Not ready to settle either
Don't think for a minute that everything is perfect with this Indiana football team. It's not. But that's what is also obvious about Tom Allen's Hoosiers. They can actually win games—even on the road—even when they don't play their best. But they find a way.
They did that Saturday. Indiana teams in years gone by didn't do that.
For some, Allen's high-energy demeanor and homespun "Love Each Other'' rhetoric gets to be a little much, but that's who he is. If you have an issue with it, that's your problem, not Tom's. He cares so much. And it's real. He loves everyone and everything about this program so much.
LEO? Sure, it's real.
The perfect example of that is junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey. He has started 19 football games for Allen now, and the coach admits the hardest thing he's ever had to do as a coach was sit down with Ramsey in August and tell him he wasn't going to be his starting quarterback. He was being replaced by redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr.
And that's where LEO comes in. Ramsey could have just up and quit and transferred somewhere else. That's the trend with spurned quarterbacks these days in college football.
But Ramsey looked around his locker room and saw the dozens and dozens of teammates that he truly loves. Many of them are his best friends. He wasn't about to leave them, because he knew—he knew for sure—that they would need him someday this season.
And the Saturday before.
The absolute testament to what Allen preaches—"It's not about you, it's about the guy next to you''—played out exactly through what Ramsey has done the past two weeks. He didn't know if he was even going to play, but he worked hard all week just in case. He knew the playbook like the back of his hand, and knew the game plan. He would be prepared enough to make every check, know the right choice on every option, know when to step out of a play.
And why? Because he could never let his teammates down. He loves to win, but even more so, he loves helping his teammates. That's why his teammates all love him so much, too.
"I can't say enough about Peyton Ramsey. What a stud,'' Allen said. "Our offense continues to be highly effective.''
Indiana football has changed. There's a long way to go, and no one is settled and satisfied. This, in Tom Allen's plan, is just the beginning.
Next up in the journey? After two road wins, the Hoosiers come home next weekend to play Northwestern. The goal? Win the week and get to 7-2.
"I want a huge, huge, huge crowd on Saturday,'' Allen said. "These kids deserve it. Come help these guys do something special. That belief, it's just growing and growing.''
That's the new Indiana football.