EAST LANSING, Michigan — After IU’s win over Michigan State, a 17-point comeback highlighted by three missed field goals that could have won the game for both teams, swirling snow flurries and a Hoosiers offense with no passing game, Indiana wrote the victory of his collective determination and resilience.
“I told these guys last week, whoever’s playing just never lays down for anyone,” quarterback Dexter Williams II said. “Give him what you’ve got. Make her feel, and the rest will take care of itself. Things didn’t go the way we wanted. We just got a W.”
Defender Jonathan Haynes adds: “We just kept fighting. That’s what’s special about this team. We will not give up. We fight in and out every week.”
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That’s all typical gamer language. Speak from the heart and never give up, which minimizes the role of skill and talent in football. It draws on the romantic notion that David can defeat Goliath with little but sheer willpower.
But here’s the thing: IU has been missing that resilience since the beginning of the year. The Hoosiers went to Spartan Stadium as losers in their last seven games. They had been surpassed 101-28 in November. They’ve been hit in the mouth so many times this year and couldn’t knock anyone back.
And in that regard, a terrific road win through snow and wind – Williams, a native of Georgia, said he had never played in cold weather until last week – is an undeniable step forward.
A comeback doesn’t make up for an ugly, disappointing season, but it’s one of Indiana’s first positives in months. Now they’re returning home for a rivalry game against Purdue with momentum, having stuck to their plan both mentally and physically through the game’s rough patches.
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“We’re never getting out,” said senior defenseman Bryant Fitzgerald. “I think that’s the big thing, now we see that whatever the lead, we’re a damn good football team. The balance sheet doesn’t show it, but we are fighters and we will keep fighting.”
Within the game’s overall message of never giving up were objective, tangible applications. IU was flagged three times in the first half for pass interference in the end zone, but coach Tom Allen didn’t care. MSU receivers were among the best Indiana had seen all year, he said, so he urged his players to stay aggressive.
Quarterback Peyton Thorne started Michigan State’s final drive in overtime with a fade on the right touchline. Cornerback Jaylin Williams made contact with Jayden Reed when the ball sailed over their heads and landed on the turf. Boos rained down from what was left of an already sparse crowd. The fans wanted a penalty.
Six snaps later Thorne Reed was looking down the middle, the Spartans were looking for a touchdown as they needed seven yards to extend the game. Noah Pierre played the ball aggressively and deflected it when he got his hand between Reed’s arms. Pierre landed the ball wide to secure the win.
As the defense recovered from giving up 24 points in the first half to concede a lone touchdown in the second, the offense found sparks from chunk plays. Shaun Shivers got the ball on the Hoosiers’ first play in the third quarter and ran 79 yards for a touchdown. Jaylin Lucas returned a kickoff 88 yards and scored another hit.
Both games closed the gap in a game with little room for error for either team. It is impossible to say whether they contributed more. Allen believes they did.
“There’s always a difficult analysis of what’s causing things and how to dig,” he said. “There’s no question that when things don’t go your way, you lose your confidence. And when you start getting that back, that’s a powerful thing. Faith is a powerful thing and I think our guys knew we had shown we could score and that builds that faith and the ability to maybe try a little bit harder with every single rep. Knowing I just have to block a little longer, the guy will give him a few extra yards to stay on the field. You could just feel it.”