Bloomington – A game that featured 71 points and more than 1,000 yards of total offense came down to a couple of pretty simple plays.
IU kicker Austin Starr missed a chip shot field goal and had an extra point blocked, and the Hoosiers were on the wrong end of a couple of late 3rd down plays in a 37-34 loss to Central Michigan Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
The win was Central Michigan's first over a Big Ten foe since 1992 and lifted the Chippewas to 7-2. Indiana, meanwhile lost its second game to a Mid-America Conference team this season and fell to 3-6. With only three regular season games remaining – including one at No. 3 Penn State – the Hoosiers must win out to have any chance to get to a bowl game.
Realistically, Central Michigan was a game Indiana had to win if it hoped to get back to the postseason, and the Hoosiers had their chances. After an action-packed first half that saw the two teams exchange touchdowns and go into intermission tied 21-21, IU quarterback Ben Chappell hooked up with Ray Fisher for a 64-yard touchdown on IU's first possession of the second half to break the tie and put IU up by seven.
After a couple of defensive stops, Indiana had a chance to make it a two-score game for the first time late in the 3rd quarter. But after an IU drive stalled inside the Central Michigan 15, Starr missed a 30-yard field goal wide right. It was Starr's seventh missed field goal in 14 attempts this season, a dramatic drop-off from a year ago when Starr missed only two of 24 field goals and earned All-America honors.
"Those things come back to get you," IU Coach Bill Lynch said. "That was a big sequence. There was a lot of football after that where we didn't play well enough, but that was tough."
After Starr's miss, Central Michigan quickly countered. CMU quarterback Brian Brunner hooked up with Antonio Brown for a 79-yard touchdown two plays later to tie the game at 28. It was the fourth and final touchdown pass on the day for Brunner, who filled in for an injured Dan LaFevour and completed 35-of-53 throws for a school-record 485 yards.
Indiana reclaimed the lead on a short touchdown run by Demetrius McCray on its next possession, but Starr's extra point was blocked and IU's lead was six, 34-28. From there, Central Michigan made all of the critical plays down the stretch to secure its sixth win by 10 points or less.
Chippewa placekicker Andrew Aguila booted a 48-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to three. On IU's next possession, Chappell was picked off on an ill-advised 3rd-and-3 throw, giving Central Michigan the ball near midfield. Six plays later, Brunner scored on a one-yard plunge to put CMU up 37-34.
After the two teams exchanged punts, IU had one final chance for a go-ahead score. But on a 3rd-and-4 at midfield, McCray was stuffed for a one-yard loss, and on 4th down Chappell's final pass of the day was incomplete, giving the ball back to the Chippewas with 2:39 left.
"We thought we were going to pop that run (on third down), we really did," Lynch said. "We knew we had two downs to make it, it wasn't like we were going to punt on 4th down. We thought we could pop that run. We had throughout the day."
Any chance of one final IU drive was dashed moments later when Ontario Sneed broke free for an 11-yard run on a 3rd and 3, and the Chippewas were able to run out the clock.
"We didn't make enough plays in the fourth quarter to keep the ball away from them and we didn't make the stops on defense, and a couple of plays in the kicking game certainly came back to hurt us," Lynch said.
It was a frustrating loss for an IU team that put up 485 yards of total offense - including 290 yards on the ground – and a costly one as well due to injuries. Marcus Thigpen had touchdown runs of 22 and 77 yards in the first quarter and finished with 109 yards rushing on six carries before leaving with an ankle injury. Bryan Payton had 12 carries for 77 yards of his own before he had to leave as well due to ankle injury. Kellen Lewis, meanwhile, started the game and was rotating with Chappell before he had to depart with an apparent ankle injury, and center Pete Saxon was also helped off the field with an unspecified injury.
IU's defense was led by Matt Mayberry, who recorded 13 tackles and a school-record four sacks, while Will Patterson added 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and one interception. But ultimately Indiana's inability to slow down Brunner and to get off the field on 3rd down (CMU was 11-of-19 on 3rd down) was too much for Lynch's team to overcome.
Patterson wasn't pleased with the defense's performance and the efforts of some of the individuals on that side of the ball.
"We have certain guys that play like warriors every Saturday, and a few guys who kind of do their own thing," Patterson said. "It showed today."
Patterson said as one of the team's captains, it's partly his responsibility to get whatever issues the defense has sorted out before Wisconsin arrives for next Sunday's home finale.
"It's a leadership thing, and some guys see themselves and see how embarrassing it is and maybe they'll want to fix it themselves," Patterson said. "I'm a captain on this team, letting things like that go all season is unacceptable on my part."
Indiana – Thigpen 6-109, Payton 12-77, Davis-Walker 3-31, Evans 3-25, Lewis 8-10, McCray 4-9, Means 1-7, Chappell 5-3, Fisher 1-1. Totals 43-272. Central Michigan – Brown 3-44, Sneed 6-18, Schroeder 8-5, Brunner 2-(-5). Totals 31-37.
Indiana – Chappell 16-8-1 156, Lewis 9-5-0 57. Central Michigan – Brunner 53-35-1 485.
Indiana – Fisher 3-75, Means 3-31, Belcher 3-28, Turner 2-52, Evans 1-15, Dedmond 1-15. Central Michigan – Anderson 9-132, Poblah 8-81, Brown 7-138, Bockheim 6-68, Sneed 3-43, Weaver 1-12, Schroeder 1-11.
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Hoosiers Upended By Chippewas, 37-34
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