Hoosiers aim to finish during season’s final stretch

The rallying cry all season has been “finish.” Coming off last week’s bye, Indiana is running out of chances to do so.

This weekend marks the start of the season’s final quarter for IU, one last three-game stretch for the Hoosiers to accomplish one of their primary goals.

IU still needs two wins to clinch bowl eligibility, and Saturday’s noon kickoff against Maryland represents Indiana’s best remaining chance to get one. For the Hoosiers, losers of four straight, it’s time to finish.

“The bottom line is it’s about us finishing in key situations,” IU coach Tom Allen said.

Problem is, Indiana has struggled all season to do exactly that.

Go back to IU’s last game on Oct. 26 at Minnesota, where the Hoosiers settled for three first-half field goals while the Gophers tallied three touchdowns in the same span.

Finishing drives is one of the primary areas where Indiana’s offense has struggled this year, and that night in Minneapolis was no different. Upon reviewing that ballgame, Allen says he’d like a do-over on IU’s second drive. After a third-and-three pass attempt to Nick Westbrook went incomplete, Indiana took the points on a 24-yard field goal.

In hindsight, Allen said, it would’ve behooved the Hoosiers to go for it on fourth down at the Minnesota 6-yard line.

“You don’t win road games by kicking field goals,” Allen said.

Or home games, for that matter.

Finishing drives has been an issue no matter the venue, with IU ranked 119th nationally with 3.88 points per trip inside the 40-yard line.

“You have to be able to compete against teams on a given day,” Allen said. “You got to be able to execute in those key times. You got to be able to finish plays, make plays, create separation on offense, contested balls, need to focus on that, the details, the little things.”

One of the biggest challenges for this IU program has been winning games against comparable competition. Take last year’s meeting with Maryland, for example.

Indiana failed to take advantage of opportunity on that Oct. 28, 2017 afternoon in College Park, where Maryland entered play with its fourth-string quarterback and the Big Ten’s worst defense. The Hoosiers made too many mistakes, turning in their most discouraging defensive performance of the season and suffering a critical special teams breakdown in the narrow, 42-39 loss to the Terps.

“We know what they’re capable of,” quarterback Peyton Ramsey said of Maryland. “We went over there and played well on offense, but they still came out on top. We know what they’re capable of, we know they’re good. It’s just a matter of preparation. We got a head start on our preparation and we’re just continuing to work, continuing to push and not overlooking anything because it is a big one.”

That’s the case for the Terps, too.

Maryland’s program continues to deal with the fallout stemming from offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s offseason death. McNair died of heatstroke following offseason conditioning drills on May 29.

Since August, the program — along with the Maryland athletic department — has been in turmoil. The Terps put head coach DJ Durkin on administrative leave in mid-August, then fired him last week — a day after he was initially reinstated. Former IU offensive coordinator Matt Canada has served as the Terps’ interim coach all season.

On the field, Maryland started the season with a meaningful win over Texas and, remarkably, has done enough to get to five wins entering the season’s final stretch.

The Terps need this one badly. Saturday’s game at Indiana is likely their last shot at clinching bowl eligibility, with remaining games against Ohio State and at Penn State looming in the distance.

“They’re definitely focused on this game, for sure,” IU running back Stevie Scott said.

Indiana needs the same focus, of course.

It needs to finish drives, it needs to finish tackles and it needs to find the explosive plays that can help finish off comparable opponents on its home field.

“The guys came in (earlier this week), had a great focus about them,” Allen said. “That to me is about living out our one word for the year, which is ‘finish’. That’s a continual challenge, (especially) against a team that has won five games already, looking to get their sixth win, has done some good things amid difficult circumstances.

“Once again, an opportunity for us come to out here and turn things around for our season, get a whole different feel for our program.”

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