There seem to be few alternate scenarios for Indiana football: Win at Rutgers Saturday to keep alive a chance at the postseason after a one-year absence. Lose, and that drought most likely continues, with Indiana searching for serious answers as to why it was unable to capitalize on its Cinderella-like run in 2020 when it won 6-of-7 B1G games during the Covid season.

A victory won’t be easy. The Scarlet Knights are 3-point favorites against the Hoosiers, and they get the benefit of coming off a bye, a luxury Indiana doesn’t see until after this week.

It’s not as if a win guarantees IU a spot in the bowl picture. The Hoosiers would still need to beat 2 of their final 4 opponents after the bye, but they’ll be underdogs in at least 3 games — significantly so in 2 of them — and probably the 4th, as well. Indiana’s November slate includes a home game with Penn State, followed by a road trip to Ohio State. IU is on the road at Michigan State the next week, before the Hoosiers host the rival Boilermakers a couple days after Thanksgiving.

Winning 2 of those games might be possible, but taking 3, which would include a victory against either Penn State, which will come to Bloomington as at least a 2-touchdown favorite, or at Ohio State, which will be favored by at least 3 TDs, if not 4, is highly unlikely.

So the Rutgers game in Piscataway, where IU has won 3 straight games and 3-of-4 in the programs’ short series history, is key. The Hoosiers might have a little extra motivation traveling east, in case the desperation of a 4-game losing streak and bowl eligibility isn’t enough. It was a year ago that a 4-win Rutgers came to Bloomington and embarrassed the the Hoosiers, racing all over the Memorial Stadium field on its way to a 38-3 victory.

It was a listless performance by Tom Allen’s team, which managed to turn the ball over 6 times (2 interceptions and 4 lost fumbles, plus an extra loose football that the Hoosiers managed to pick up), convert only 1-of-14 3rd downs and see the Scarlet Knights score on all 6 of their trips into the red zone. If there was one performance to point to in a lost season — IU lost 8 consecutive games to end the year and finished 0-9 in Big Ten play — that was it. The Hoosiers were cooked.

How much that comes into play Saturday remains to be seen.

More than anything, Indiana needs to clean up its own act. The problem is that the Hoosiers can not point to one particular issue — more than any others — to try to get back in the W column.

There have been multiple breakdowns:

  • Indiana’s offensive line, which looked better after the position coaching change but was brutal before, hasn’t protected quarterback Connor Bazelak well enough, nor has it opened lanes in the running game.
  • Bazelak has been inaccurate at times, causing the Hoosiers’ offense to stall out when it seemed most likely to strike.
  • Although it has played hard frequently, especially with star linebacker Cam Jones sidelined, the defense has given up big plays too often, like it did in the 4th quarter Saturday vs. Terrapins backup QB Billy Edwards Jr.
  • Indiana hasn’t taken advantage of opportunities, like when it was tied at the half vs. Nebraska and Michigan, or when it led vs. Maryland with 14 minutes to go.

Indiana has put itself in this position. The only way for the Hoosiers to save themselves, their season — and dare to say Allen’s job status? — is to win at Rutgers, then find a way to upend the Spartans in East Lansing, then stun the Boilermakers at home for the Old Oaken Bucket. It’s a narrow path, and one only made possible by a W vs. the Scarlet Knights.