Perspective matters. The Indiana Hoosiers pulled off the most eye-catching college football upset last week.
They earned the right to smile, yell, jump up and down, and congratulate themselves. For 24 hours, or maybe 48 at the most. That’s because the 36-35 overtime victory over Penn State is seen not as an end point, but a way-station.
A highly regarded novel from the 1960s is called "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me." For the longest time, most of 33 years, that was true of IU football.
No longer. The Hoosiers’ unexpected win propelled them into the Associated Top 25 ratings at No. 17, a reward and recognition bestowed by voters who know the game.
Only games like that during the regular season are not frozen in time, but are part of an ongoing schedule. They can be celebrated only so long before the emotion dissipates and regular business resumes.
That’s why it is imperative Indiana win again this Saturday, critical the Hoosiers best Rutgers to go 2-0 so no one can say edging Penn State was a fluke, but a substantial accomplishment on the way to somewhere. The miles between 1-1 and 2-0 are measured in intangibles and mentality as much as reality and basic arithmetic.
Leading up to the Penn State game, IU coach Tom Allen, architect of a step-by-step program resurgence still in the making, stressed that coming close and falling short was nothing to be relished. It was time to put the big W on the record.
The Hoosiers did so, and Allen grinned just enough to let listeners on his Zoom press conference early this week understand that he did take considerable joy from the triumph.
Old friends, Hoosier fans, acquaintances, poured out nice-job messages to Allen, people from Bloomington and from far away. Ordinarily, one might be suspicious they wanted free tickets to later games, except the Big Ten isn’t allowing spectators inside the gates this season.
"It has been crazy," Allen said of the widespread reaction. "It is hard to sleep. Everybody’s reached out."
The win was several years in the making, as Allen put it, but geez there is another game and his team is playing another team that might be a mirror of IU.
Rutgers has had little success either lately or long-term, and is coming off its own notable win, while being re-shaped by an old coach back by popular demand.
Rutgers beat Michigan State to end a 21-game conference losing streak and are probably surprised to be facing a ranked Indiana.
This will be on Rutgers’ mind since the Scarlet Knights haven’t won in 28 tries against a ranked team over 11 years. Perhaps the winner of this encounter will end up being the Big Ten’s upstart squad of the year.
Indiana deserves it more because the Hoosiers have put more angst, more time, more sweat for longer into reaching this point. The players’ excitement was earned, but they also don’t want to squander the achievement with two steps backward.
For sure, the coaching staff did not seem like a group with swelled heads. By Monday, offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan no longer sounded like a guy who experienced a great high, but who seemed more like a coach who had spent 48 hours picking apart every play on film to find the mediocre ones.
"We didn’t play well for a large portion of the game," Sheridan said.
That was certainly a party-pooper statement, but accurate. The Hoosiers’ statistics were not especially grand. They did not dominate, but were just one play better when it mattered most.
"We need to execute better," Sheridan said.
Mostly, Sheridan did not want his guys suddenly thinking they were invincible because they defeated the then-8th-ranked team in the nation by one point.
Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Penix scored a touchdown and on two, two-point rushes, including the winning points. You couldn’t read Penix’s emotions, but his words were probably a salve to Sheridan and Allen heading up against Rutgers.
"We came up with a great win," Penix said, "a great team win." As for Rutgers? "We’re definitely not going to look over anybody."
Good answer. It was not so long ago many teams overlooked Indiana.