Hoosiers striving for strong finish

During Indiana’s weekly team meeting Sunday afternoon, with a season-defining stretch run mere days away, Tom Allen wanted to illustrate what was at stake.

So the IU coach called each of his seniors to the front of the Hoosiers’ team room inside the North End Zone complex. Then, Allen asked the seated freshmen, sophomores and juniors to lock eyes with those IU veterans.

“He wanted the whole team to take a look at them and realize how much we’ve put into this program, how many hours and (recognize) how hard we work,” senior safety Chase Dutra said. “He wants everyone in the room to finish for us. That’s the big thing in these next three weeks.”

At Indiana, where the Hoosiers have gone winless in six conference games, finishing hasn’t been easy.

But to achieve bowl eligibility and salvage what has been a disappointing, injury-riddled season, the Hoosiers recognize that has to change.

They’ll have their chance to follow through beginning with Saturday’s noon kickoff at Illinois.

“It’s very tough to win three Big Ten games at any program, so we have a lot riding on this right now,” redshirt junior receiver Simmie Cobbs said. “We’re not gonna let it overwhelm us. We’re gonna take it one day at a time, do all the little things and take it week by week.”

Indiana hasn’t won three consecutive Big Ten games since 1993, when Bill Mallory’s team rattled off four straight victories en route to an 8-4 record and an appearance in the Independence Bowl.

Winning away from Bloomington has been equally difficult for the Hoosiers, who will return home to host Rutgers next week before closing the season at Purdue. Since 2000, Indiana has won two Big Ten road games only twice.

One of those seasons, however, was 2015, when the Hoosiers were in a similar predicament. After winning all four non-conference games that season, IU lost six in a row in the league. But the Hoosiers bounced back with wins at Maryland and Purdue to close the year and clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007.

“The last two years we’ve come down to the last game being a bowl opportunity,” kicker Griffin Oakes said. “We’ve gotta finish through these next three games. A couple years ago, we went through those two games and it was a tough stretch — and that was only two games. It’s not an easy stretch that we have coming up, but we have a chance.”

Oakes, a fifth-year senior, has watched up close as this Indiana program has experienced varying high and low points in recent years.

The Hoosiers went 5-7, their sixth consecutive losing season, when Oakes walked on in 2013. Indiana appeared poised to take the next step the following year until quarterback Nate Sudfeld’s season-ending injury midway through the schedule led to the unraveling of IU’s bowl hopes.

Finally, with a two-game road winning streak to close the season, the Hoosiers found the postseason in 2015, clinching a bid to the Pinstripe Bowl.

Quarterback Richard Lagow joined the program just prior to that bowl trip to New York City, and during the past two years, he’s been one of the many trying to help the Hoosiers continue their momentum.

On Sunday, he was one of the many upperclassmen at the front of IU’s team room asking all involved with the program to band together and make something of these final three games.

“The seniors wanted to address everybody and make sure everybody’s on the same page and in the right state of mind for this run that we’re about to have to go on,” senior quarterback Richard Lagow said. “We just want to finish the season the right way, get to a bowl game and make sure we’re enjoying each other at the same time.”