BLOOMINGTON — Lately, there have been two regular occurrences in the life of Indiana University football.
Coach Tom Allen loses his voice from yelling instructions on the sidelines, and the Hoosiers lose the game.
Not that there is anything else they can do, but maybe both are trying too hard.
It happened again Saturday when IU came up just short once more in a game the Hoosiers had to have to salvage its Big Ten campaign, had to survive to retain hope for a satisfactory season.
Instead, Indiana fell to Maryland 38-33 at Memorial Stadium for its fourth straight loss after starting the season 3-0.
This contest symbolizes the weekly tribulations, a game featuring special memorable moments but in the end was just out of reach, defined by forgettable self-inflicted incidents as by anything the 5-2 Terrapins did to IU.
“Tough game,” whispered Allen post-game. “Just the thing that sticks out to me is minus three in the turnover margin. Don’t turn the ball over three times, get takeaways. Really was the difference in the game.”
Yes, it was. Two interceptions tossed by quarterback Connor Bazelak and a fumble served the function of annoying, stinging paper cuts that could not be overcome by some notable highlights, including the play of the year for IU.
Near the end of the second quarter, the Hoosiers fooled the Terrapins with a dandy of a trick play. Bazelak gave the ball to Donaven McCulley, who converted from quarterback to wide receiver this year, only to have McCulley throw a pass to him open on the right side. Bazelak gained 23 yards to the 3-yard-line, then followed up with a touchdown pass to Cam Camper. That gave IU a 17-14 lead, but it did not hold up.
Bazelak, who completed 29 of 42 attempts for 292 yards and three TDs, said IU practiced the play, but it was his first in-game catch.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a reception,” Bazelak said. “I dropped the ball in practice Tuesday.”
Bazelak said he wanted to dive for the pylon to turn the play into a touchdown but worried he might injure his shoulder.
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was injured. One of the league’s best throwers had to be carted off of the field with a lower leg injury after throwing for 270 yards and two scores. That may have given the Hoosiers hope, but Maryland backup Billy Edwards Jr. tore up IU for 53 yards in timely rushing and a touchdown in the late going.
The Terrapins aided Indiana by collecting nine penalties for 94 yards, but not even that gift-giving could rescue the Hoosiers’ fourth-quarter attempts to erase the lead. By the time IU cut the lead to the final margin, they had trailed 38-27 and had no time left.
“Disappointing,” Allen said. “To me, you put yourself in a tough spot, the defense has to step up.”
Star linebacker Cam Jones remains sidelined, and as captain, the closest to field play as he managed was to walk to the 50-yard-line for the coin toss in sweat pants. Tight end A.J. Barner did not play, either.
A week earlier, after being stymied by Michigan, Allen replaced his offensive line coach-run game coordinator with fresh face Rod Carey. Failures to protect Bazelak or open holes for the runners were at issue.
This time, Bazelak had more time to throw in general, though he was sacked three times. But the running game was controlled by Maryland. Shaun Shivers gained 32 yards and Josh Henderson 20, though two came on a TD run. Indiana’s net rushing was 36 yards.
Henderson’s biggest play was a 44-yard touchdown grab in the second period when he found plenty of room.
The turnovers were brutal for IU, especially a late fumble when the offense seemed poised to roll down the field.
“It was just another one that came down to the fourth quarter that we just let slip away,” IU linebacker Aaron Casey said.
There is truth in Casey’s comment. The Hoosiers regularly have been within striking distance in the second half but never have been able to bend the flow of the contest their way when it matters most.
The turning points versus Cincinnati, Nebraska, Michigan and Maryland always favored the other guys.