INDIANAPOLIS – It was a time for aggression and execution, for daring and tenacity. It was a time to say, in so many words, enough of this, let’s get it on.
And so the Indiana Hoosiers (1-2) did Saturday afternoon against Louisville (3-0) at Lucas Oil Stadium. A 21-0 halftime deficit became a one-possession thriller.
“Our guys bowed up and showed a lot of fight to give ourselves a chance,” head coach Tom Allen said.
It wasn’t enough in a 21-14 loss, and quarterback Tayven Jackson blamed himself. His diving attempt at a tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter came up 18 inches short.
“I let the team down,” he said.
The redshirt freshman didn’t, of course, but that mattered little to him in the immediate post-game aftermath.
On third and eight, IU trailing by seven, the game clock ticking under five minutes, Jackson ran for opportunity, diving for the end zone pylon. He found it, but only after his knee touched down just short of the goal line.
“I thought I had it,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to watch (replays). We lost because I didn’t get in.”
“Growing up as a kid, it’s in the back of your mind, going for the winning touchdown. It’s like 3-2-1 dive in the end zone. Finally, you get that moment, and it doesn’t go as planned. It’s hard to swallow.”
The Hoosiers still had a fourth-down chance for a 21-21 tie. They called a timeout to consider either a quarterback sneak or a power run. Either would have worked, Allen said, if executed properly.
They chose the power run. Running back Josh Henderson was stopped short of the goal line.
“It didn’t work,” Allen said. “When that happens, you wish you had done something else.
“You have to execute. You knock them off the line and score. We didn’t execute it. That’s frustrating. I love our coaches and team. We just have to keep battling.”
Jackson just missed his first career 300-yard passing game. He finished 24-for-34 for 299 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
“You could see him growing up,” Allen said. “He made some first-half mistakes from being young. Those will get better. You can see what he can become.
“I love the fact he makes plays. He’s able to create and extend plays. Those are things you can’t teach. He has a lot of confidence and moxie. Those are showing up.”
It showed in the way Jackson completed passes to eight different receivers.
“We had conversations about what he likes and wants,” said receiver Cam Camper, who caught three passes for 74 yards. “I told him I’m here to be in the spot for you, He runs the show.
“The whole game he was calm. He didn’t let anything rattle him. We just follow his lead and let him do what he does.”
Jaylin Lucas caught a career-high 10 passes for a career-high 98 yards, and was disappointed.
“I needed to have done more. I should have done more.”
A ferocious second-half rally blasted away first-half misery. Trailing 21-0 and misfiring on multiple levels (missing starting cornerback Nic Toomer didn’t help), the Hoosiers found their ‘A’ game on offense and defense, an indication of what could come the rest of the season.
“I know what type of team we have,” Camper said. “It wasn’t a surprise that we battled back like that. Other teams might had laid it down. At no point did we lay down.
“At halftime, everybody knew what time it was.”
Allen’s fiery halftime talk was the catalyst.
“It was very intense,” Jackson said. “Coach Allen was standing up and coaching hard. He said, ‘We’re not quitting. We’ll keep going. This is who we are as a program. We’re fighters. This is what we do. We’re coming out like a wrecking ball.’
“That’s what we did.”
Added Allen. “That speaks to the character of our guys. I challenged them. I wanted to see these guys fight through adversity. I told how you respond is important.”
The result — IU rocked Louisville with a second-half-opening onside kick, Jackson’s first career touchdown pass (a 30-yarder to Lucas), Phillip Dunnan’s second interception of the season, a 97-yard TD drive, and stifling defense that held the high-powered Louisville offense to 57 yards on 21 plays with three punts and an interception in the first four second-half possessions.
“Everything changed because of the mentality we came out with to start the second half,” Dunnam said. “We came out more physical and playing harder.
“We fed off Coach Allen’s energy.”
Allen said he decided to open the second half with an on-side kick as the first half was ending with that 21-0 deficit. The Hoosiers had successfully tried it twice during practice.
“I thought we had a shot to get it,” Allen said. “I told (special teams coordinator Kasey Teegardin) I’ve got to see it executed in practice. We were 2-for-2 in practice. Now we’re 3-for-3.”
IU went to Lucas early and often to open the game. The Hoosiers gained yards, but not points. They punted on their first possession, threw an interception on their second.
Louisville capitalized on that interception with an 85-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter. It added a pair of second-quarter touchdowns for a 21-0 halftime lead.
Seeking a spark, the Hoosiers opened the second half by successfully converting an onside kick to get the ball near midfield. Louis Moore recovered it.
A 21-yard pass to Lucas got the ball inside the Louisville 35-yard line. Jackson followed with a 30-yard touchdown pass to Lucas for a 21-7 score 78 seconds into the second half.
The defense forced a punt and was rewarded with a Louisville shanked 18-yard effort. IU again had the ball near midfield, went for it on fourth-and-short, and didn’t make it.
Dunnam came back with his interception. The Hoosiers drove 97 yards for another touchdown, the final three yards on a Henderson run for a 21-14 score.
IU forced a punt, then followed with its own punt. It forced another punt and started on its own 10-yard. A 41-yard strike from Jackson to Camper set up a fourth and 18 inches for a tie with 4:43 left. Henderson was stopped.
The Hoosiers needed another stop.
It never came. Louisville ran out the clock to seal the victory.
The Cardinals, who entered the game averaging 47.5 points, had a 100-yard receiver (Jamari Thrash, 159 yards), a 100-yard runner (Jawhar Jordan, 113 yards) and a 200-yard passer (Jack Plummer, 238 yards). But most of that damage was in the first half.
“We had too many self-inflicted wounds,” Allen said. “We have to play four quarters. But the way this group battled back was encouraging.”
Information provided by IU Hoosiers.com. Used with permission