No one understands the challenge of winning six games in a season more than Tom Allen and his Indiana Hoosiers.
Allen was named Indiana’s head coach in December of 2016, and lost his debut 26-24 against Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl. Nearly three years later, he is still fighting for his next bowl appearance and Indiana’s first bowl win in 28 years.
At 5-2 on the season, Allen has reached five wins for the third consecutive year. The first two years ended in heartbreaking seven-point losses to in-state rival Purdue. This year, Allen is looking to do something that plenty of Big Ten programs have done in recent years: gain bowl eligibility by beating Nebraska.
Since the Huskers joined the Big Ten, seven different teams have picked up their sixth win of the season against Nebraska, including Minnesota two weeks ago.
A win by 4-3 Nebraska wouldn’t grant bowl eligibility, but it would make it significantly easier to attain that six-win goal set by Athletic Director Bill Moos back in July.
To make matters more interesting, neither Allen nor Nebraska head coach Scott Frost have announced who will start at quarterback for their teams.
Nebraska sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez was seen in full pads after practice on Wednesday and Frost said on Thursday that he knows who will play on Saturday, but declined to announce it publicly. Martinez injured his ankle late in Nebraska’s 13-10 win over Northwestern three weeks ago and redshirt sophomore Noah Vedral started in his place in Nebraska’s 34-7 loss at Minnesota.
Indiana’s quarterback situation is slightly more complicated at the moment. Allen named freshman Michael Penix Jr. the starter before the season, but he has battled injuries throughout the season and left Indiana’s win over Maryland last week with a shoulder injury in the first quarter. In limited action in five games, Penix has completed 100-145 pass attempts for 1,232 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Junior Peyton Ramsey has filled in for Penix and completed 79-107 passes for 843 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He threw for 2,875 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as Indiana’s starter in 2018.
"Right now, we do not know what his [Penix’s] status will be. It will be a game-time decision,'' Allen said. "So the plan will be to prepare like we have every single week, to be able to have Peyton Ramsey ready to roll, and he'll have a great week of practice just like he did last week. And [backup] Jack [Tuttle] will be ready as well.”
A key reason both quarterbacks have had success has been the consistency of Indiana’s wide receivers. Junior Whop Philyor leads the Hoosiers with 559 yards and three touchdowns and sophomore tight end Peyton Hendershot has 351 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Besides the quarterback situation, Indiana’s approach to this game is likely not going to differ from its regular pass-first oriented offense. Nebraska’s approach is far less certain.
Following the bye week, there may be several personnel changes by Frost and Nebraska. The only confirmed change has been the absence of sophomore running back Maurice Washington on the weekly depth chart. According to Frost, sophomore kicker Barret Pickering is getting closer to playing as well. Freshman wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson left Nebraska’s previous game with an ankle injury and is also questionable for Saturday’s game.
Frost also mentioned on Monday that he was able to use the bye week to let some of the underclassmen take reps with the first and second teams, and mentioned that several are close to being prepared to play in actual games.
“We’re going to score points,” Frost said about the offense on Thursday. “That needs to be the expectation. We’re not going to change our identity, the identity that our kids know works when we do things the right way and we’ve just got to keep working and keep getting better. The kids know who we are and what we’re all about and we’ll go out and do the best we can.”
Nebraska and Indiana will face off at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the game will be televised on BTN.