BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — The fallout from Saturday's late-game decision is still being felt at Indiana.
Coach Kevin Wilson again accepted blame for what he called a poor play call. Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell acknowledged he got "bluffed" by Minnesota's defense. Senior tight end Ted Bolser and junior safety Mark Murphy said simply that they and their teammates needed to execute better.
Whatever the explanation, it won't change the devastating 42-39 loss to Minnesota that left Hoosiers fans demoralized about the likelihood of missing out on a bowl party yet again.
"That's a tough deal, of course. You want them to hurt a little. The locker room was hurting a lot because it was like, 'Hey, man, that's the first time I've ever seen it like that,'" Wilson said. "We had chances all game. We had a missed touchdown opportunity in the first drive. So we can talk about the last blunder, all it was. So we tried to, late Saturday night, snap out of it."
That didn't stop anyone from discussing the ramifications 48 hours later.
Indiana (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) entered the season's final month needing three wins in its final five games to become bowl eligible — a seemingly plausible scenario with home games against Minnesota and Illinois before closing out the season at Wisconsin, at Ohio State and home against struggling Purdue.
After trailing 35-13 in the third quarter Saturday, then rallying to take a 39-35 lead only to fall behind again, 42-39, the hopeful Hoosiers got one last chance by moving to Minnesota's 9-yard line in the final minute. Following an incompletion and a Minnesota timeout, Nate Sudfeld threw a seemingly safe swing pass, which bounced off Tevin Coleman's hands. Brock Vereen pounced on the loose ball, which was ruled a lateral to seal the Golden Gophers' victory.
"I saw something that I thought would be unchecked and they just did a good job bluffing it, and that was on me," Littrell said. "Laterals, we don't throw laterals, or we don't throw a lot of laterals. But every play, there's something different, something we can clean up and work on."
Since 1988, the Hoosiers are a combined 14-47-1 against the Fighting Illini, Badgers and Buckeyes — and Indiana has never beaten all three schools in the same season.
Players, who are trying to stay positive, know many fans are writing off this season as a failure.
"We don't really look at it that way," Bolser said. "People say we can't beat Ohio State or Wisconsin, and we don't look it that way, either."
Instead, the Hoosiers see the numbers and see they have one of the nation's most potent offenses and a defense that managed to get enough stops late in Saturday's game to give the Hoosiers a chance to rally. If they continue playing that way, perhaps they could get the big upset they need.
Plus, the Hoosiers must still figure out what went wrong against Minnesota.
In addition to the inexplicable turnover, Wilson pointed to five consecutive punts Saturday, something he noted the Hoosiers cannot afford with their fast-paced tempo. He wants the defense to become more consistent than it has been and to play the way they did late, when the stops gave Indiana a chance to rally. But that's been a season-long quest that shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
Bolser and Murphy both downplayed the impact this latest loss, Indiana's third in a row, will have in the locker room. Wilson said Sunday night's dinner was businesslike, quieter than after a win but certainly not silent.
And he's hoping by this weekend, everyone can forget about the Minnesota game and start focusing on their next mission — shocking the world. Illinois (3-5, 0-4) visits on Saturday.
"Let's keep fighting and competing. To me, it's the hardest step because it's the next step," Wilson said. "Right now, you're right there, keep going and give ourselves a chance. If we don't, we give ourselves no chance. These players give us a chance, and as a coach I've got to keep us going. That has been my mojo the last two days."