Seven games.

That’s how many games Indiana has lost by one possession or less in the last two seasons. And when those games are the difference between a bowl berth and sitting in a dorm room during the holiday season, those pills become the hardest to swallow.

In each of Tom Allen’s first two seasons in Bloomington, the Hoosiers have finished the year 5-7, letting more than a few games slip away over that span. It’s a feeling that has kept players up at night.

“You lose sleep over it,” said senior offensive lineman Coy Cronk at B1G Media Days. “It makes you nauseous. I mean, you can go think of plays I’ve made or someone else on the offensive line, that eats you up, especially when you’re playing such good competition.”

Those seven one-possession losses (three in 2018, four in 2017) have come to teams at all levels of the B1G. Here’s a rundown of those seven losses from the last two years:

  • 2018: vs. Penn State, 33-28
  • 2018: vs. Minnesota, 38-31
  • 2018: vs. Purdue, 28-21
  • 2017: vs. Michigan, 27-20 (OT)
  • 2017: vs. Michigan State, 17-9
  • 2017: vs. Maryland, 42-39
  • 2017: vs. Purdue, 31-24

That’s not where the agony ends. Indiana also held halftime leads over Michigan in 2018 (17-15) and Ohio State in 2017 (14-13). The Hoosiers haven’t beaten either blueblood in three decades.

Finishing games has been an issue during Allen’s first two years. That’s why the Hoosiers are placing such a strong emphasis on it heading into 2019.

Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

During Allen’s tenure, Indiana has been a relatively young team, and one that’s lacked depth. Heading into his third year, though, the Hoosiers have brought in two of the program’s highest-rated recruiting class and bring back experience at key positions.

Those are things Allen believes will help his team later in games this fall.

“It’s about depth, and there’s no question about it,” Allen said. “And we have to be able to finish quarters, finish halves and most importantly, finishing the end of the game when fatigue sets in. So playing lots of guys on both sides of the football is key to that for sure and having more quality players to be able to plug in in those key times.”

Youth and inexperience will still be a concern for the Hoosiers in 2019. According to 247Sports’ roster breakdown, 72 percent of Indiana’s roster is comprised of underclassmen, with 44 percent being freshmen. Seniors make up just 13 percent of the roster.

So, what makes this year different for Indiana?

The quality of those underclassmen is probably as good as it’s ever been. Indiana’s 2019 recruiting class was the highest in program history, ranking eighth in the B1G and 36th nationally. Four-star talents Sampson James (RB), Beau Robbins (WDE) and Cameron Williams (LB) are all players capable of making an instant impact.

Having more depth and athleticism on the field more consistently will prove to be beneficial. But when it comes to closing games, there’s really no secret sauce, according to receiver Nick Westbrook.

“Usually, you go back and watch those games, there’s one or two plays where you’re saying ‘if we had done our job right here, this game would’ve ended a lot differently,'” Westbrook said. “Recognizing those moments, being more aware, that way we can step our game up to that level when the time comes.”

Most of those moments, as you might expect, came in second halves last year. Eight times against B1G opponents in 2018, the Hoosiers were held scoreless in either the third or fourth quarter. They were held to a touchdown or less in six of nine fourth quarters in conference games.

You’re not going to win a lot of games that way, regardless of opponent.

Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

That’s why there’s such an emphasis on finishing this fall. If the Hoosiers can make those handful of plays throughout the season, chances of earning a postseason bid — and perhaps ending some nasty losing streaks — increase dramatically.

Indiana’s players understand that and are embracing the new mentality.

“We just gotta finish, really. It’s been something we’ve been stressing a lot,” Westbrook said. “Having that killer instinct, knowing when we need to make that big play that’s going to change the outcome of that game.”

Indiana hopes that making a few more plays results in a few more wins. A few more wins then translates to finishing the year in a bowl game.

Sleep may come a little easier for the Hoosiers if they’re able to get back to the postseason.