COLUMBUS, Ohio – Indiana didn't come to Ohio Stadium for any moral victories.
The No. 9 Hoosiers lost to No. 3 Ohio State 42-35 on Saturday and that left IU “ticked off” in coach Tom Allen's words to his team after the game.
But Allen is also aware of his program's history – no bowl wins since 1993 and only one Rose Bowl appearance ever – and what it means for Indiana to simply be on that stage and play like it belongs, which it did against the Buckeyes.
“I think we're showing that we're a good football team, and I think we're a really good football team,” Allen said. “We're still not where we need to be yet. ... To me it's about continuing to show and prove on the field that we're one of the top programs in the Big Ten. We haven't been that in the past for a long time and that's our goal. ... I believe we're getting closer all the time.”
There were a few moments in the game when it looked like Indiana might get run off the field. The Buckeyes came out playing with their hair on fire and were up 7-0 in 2:28 despite the Hoosiers getting the ball first. Ohio State scored easily coming out of halftime, as well, to go in front 35-7 and conjure up images of last season's 51-10 drubbing of the Hoosiers in Bloomington.
Every time Ohio State landed a haymaker, however, Indiana got back up and kept punching. It wasn't enough to earn a victory, but it was enough to prove the Hoosiers could play with Big Ten royalty.
“We knew we were coming in here to fight,” safety Jamar Johnson said. “We know we've got the same amount of players as they do. This team, we're going to fight, that's all I know. We play for each other and with each other.”
Indiana came away from the game not only convinced that it belongs next to Ohio State, but believing that it could very well have won if it had eliminated some unforced errors, a theme that Allen stressed repeatedly in the locker room after the game.
Indiana had two trips to the red zone that did not result in points, and quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw a back-breaking pick-six in the third quarter of an otherwise heroic performance.
Those crucial mistakes were the difference between the Hoosiers and one of the best teams in the country. It's a much smaller margin than the one that existed when Allen took over as head coach before the bowl game in 2016.
“There's no doubt the gap has been closed,” Allen said. “We're not there yet. (Ohio State) still (has) a lot of elite players that make it very, very challenging, but we're working hard to continue to close that.
“There's no consolation, we came here to win a game,” the coach added. “Being close isn't good enough. We've got to find a way to keep recruiting, keep developing, keep improving this football team so we can make those plays we've got to make to win games like this.”