Indiana coach Tom Allen didn’t attempt to mask his frustration and probably wouldn’t have been able to if he tried.
“Very disappointing loss for us,” Allen said after the Hoosiers dropped a 42-39 decision at Maryland on Saturday “It hurts our guys because the offense played well enough for us to win.
“Special teams prevented that, as well as some costly defensive mistakes, which has not been characteristic of us.
“That is where defense has to step up and special teams has to do their part. That is why they call it a team.”
The Hoosiers (3-5, 0-5 Big Ten), who host No. 4 Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday, appear tantalizingly close to breaking through for their first Big Ten victory.
UW probably appears vulnerable. The Badgers haven’t looked sharp in victories over Purdue, Maryland and Illinois and have a combined six turnovers and 18 penalties for 164 yards in those games.
Indiana has made significant strides defensively under Allen, who was the team’s defensive coordinator last season and took over as head coach after Kevin Wilson was forced to resign.
Last season the Hoosiers trimmed their points allowed to 27.2 from 37.6 in 2015 and allowed an average of 380.1 total yards per game, down from 509.5 (26.8 per game) and No. 7 in total defense (342.1 per game).
The defense—and the special teams—failed Allen in the loss to Maryland.
Maryland tailbacks Ty Johnson (13 carries for 91 yards) and Lorenzo Harrison (12-66) combined to rush for 157 yards and average 6.3 yards per carry.
Quarterback Max Bortenschlager completed only 10 passes but had gains of 44, 33 and 24 yards to help the Terrapins wipe out an early 14-0 deficit.
“I’ll be transparent,” Allen said of the defense. “What they do stresses our athleticism in spots. It does and they’ve got a lot of speed. We try to do the best you can to protect that without exposing guys. …Sometimes it holds up and sometimes it doesn’t. …
“Their speed makes it hard on us. I’m just being honest.”
Maryland returned a blocked punt for a touchdown and got an 82-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter—after the Hoosiers had taken a 33-28 lead.
That led to the go-ahead touchdown, a 1-yard run by Jake Funk, and the Terrapins never trailed again.
“You kick the ball off and you’ve got to go cover and you’ve got to go tackle,” Allen said. “You get exposed sometimes in those areas because of lack of speed.”
The Hoosiers lost their first two Big Ten games, against then-No. 2 Ohio State and then-No. 4 Penn State, by a combined 94-35.
The last three losses—to Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland—have come by a combined 18 points.
“As a competitor, you hate to lose,” said quarterback Richard Lagow, who replaced injured starter Peyton Ramsey against Maryland. “And being as close as we have been the last three weeks is tough. But you’ve just got to use it as motivation and know that we’re right there. …
“We’re one or two plays away, in any phase of the game, from winning all three of them.”
Allen wasn’t in the mood to discuss progress or moral victories after the loss to Maryland.
He was peeved.
“You just keep fighting,” he said. “And my thing about this one is that this is not about being close. This is about us and how we played the game. We made too many mistakes to win the game.”
UW, ranked No. 4, presents both challenge and opportunity.
“We’re the only team in the nation to play three top-five teams this season,” Allen said, “and that’s just the fact of our season.”