It was a choke job not even the Heimlich maneuver could save, nor IU senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld and his 464 passing yards and four total touchdowns.
Rutgers 55, Indiana 52.
A 25-point lead built in the third quarter could not be sustained in the fourth as the Hoosiers (4-3, 0-3 Big Ten) fell to the Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2) on a Kyle Federico 26-yard field goal as time expired in Indiana’s homecoming game Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
“Disappointing loss,” Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said. “A lot of good to build on, but a lot of correctable things to work on. Some individuals played well, had a lot of momentum… Saw some eyes and attitudes where I think we’ve got to stay humble and keep playing.”
Devine Redding raced 66 yards to the endzone, and Oakes’ ensuing successful point-after try pushed Indiana’s lead to 52-27 with 5:25 remaining in the third quarter.
About that time was when Wilson and senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld noticed those previously mentioned eyes and attitudes from his players.
“Like Coach Wilson, I was kind of concerned for a little bit, talking about guys about smiling a little bit too much,” Sudfeld said. “Because there’s a fine line between having swagger and smiling like, ‘I’m going to go make a play,’ or ‘hey, we’ve got this in the bag.’ I thought we kind of flirted with that line too much and really went over it.”
Wilson said he felt the team got too relaxed starting with the Hoosiers' ensuing kickoff that went out of bounds.
It was followed by Indiana’s defense giving up 133 yards and two touchdowns on the next two series, its punting unit fumbling a snap which was returned for a Rutgers touchdown and Sudfeld throwing back-to-back interceptions - both of which led to scoring drives that cut the lead to six then tied the game, respectively.
Rutgers’ 4-minute, 47-second final drive to win the game, which began at the Scarlet Knights’ own 32, wouldn’t have been necessary if its four miscues – two failed two-point attempts, two blocked point-after tries – had not happened.
“We had a couple of PATs blocked in the game, and won the game on a field goal, so there’s some irony in there as well,” said Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood, who returned to the sidelines after serving a suspension which cost him three games and $50,000. “But I’m really proud of the effort, really proud of how the players fought more so than really any of the plays they made.”
The loss overshadowed Sudfeld falling 16 yards shy of tying Ben Chappell’s program record for most passing yards in a single game, Redding’s career-high 99 rushing yards and redshirt junior wide receiver Mitchell Paige's career-high 126 receiving yards. Freshman running back Mike Majette’s 116 total yards of offense in his first significant playing time doesn’t shine as bright in a loss.
Indiana also could’ve moved one win closer to meeting minimum bowl eligibility requirements, but couldn't do so after managing just 25 total yards of total offense - 55 yards passing and -30 yards rushing - in the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, sophomore linebacker Marcus Oliver said it’s still a reachable goal for the Hoosiers.
“We’re better than how we played the last half,” Oliver said. “We should beat a lot of teams, we can play with anybody. Rutgers is a good team, they just kept playing.”
“You don’t want to tell people, ‘hey, wipe that smile off your face,’” Sudfeld added, “but there was a lack of focus and kind of a feeling that we had it.”
A team that has shown the maturity to comeback from halftime deficits in the past lacked Saturday night as the Hoosiers have now lost three straight since starting the season 4-0.
"In this day and age of college football, you need to keep playing," Wilson said. "And unfortunately, they kept playing, we did not. Whethter it be playcalling, execution, management, whatever, just as a collective group you've got to play the full 60 minutes, and we didn't."