Indiana was reminded of that the hard way.
The Hoosiers held the lead late in the third quarter Saturday, but Rutgers rallied late to defeat the Hoosiers 55-52. Scarlet Knights kicker Kyle Federico delivered the final blow, connecting on a 26-yard field goal as time expired for the final margin.
“We are a mature team, but we were just exposed tonight,” senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld said. “We got too cocky on the sideline and just weren’t able to make a play when we needed to. We weren’t able to stop anybody when we needed to. That goes on us. We’ve got to execute for four quarters.”
Indiana (4-3, 0-3) led 52-27 with 5:25 left in the third quarter, but a combination of turnovers and explosive plays from Rutgers’ offense flipped momentum in the final 20 minutes. The Scarlet Knights (3-3, 1-2) intercepted Sudfeld twice, returned a punt for a score and ultimately drove into field goal range in the final seconds to secure the win.
“Disappointing loss,” head coach Kevin Wilson said. “That slipped away.”
After Indiana took its 28-point lead with just over 20 minutes remaining in the game, the Hoosiers’ final four drives ended with a fumble, back-to-back interceptions and a punt.
Meanwhile, Rutgers’ closed the game with four consecutive touchdowns before connecting on the game-winning field goal.
“They kept coming,” redshirt sophomore cornerback Rashard Fant said. “They played hard, and they played a little bit better than us and made a little bit more plays down the stretch.”
Wilson and his players struggled to pinpoint an exact reason for the turn in events. The general consensus was the loss was a result of the Hoosiers falling back on their heels while the Scarlet Knights came alive with their backs against the wall.
Wilson placed part of the blame on a relaxed Indiana sideline. He said he saw a few too many players smiling when they needed to be locked in even with a four-touchdown lead.
“(I) saw some eyes and attitudes where I think we’ve got to stay humble and keep playing,” Wilson said. “We didn’t and they did.”
Indiana outscored Rutgers 28-6 in the third quarter before the Scarlet Knights mounted their comeback.
The fourth quarter began with a bad snap on a punt sailing over senior Erich Toth’s head. Rutgers’ Kemoko Turay recovered the ball and ran it in for a touchdown to cut Indiana’s leads to 52-39. From there, Indiana was held scoreless while Rutgers added touchdown drives of 68 and 63 yards before the final field goal as time expired.
“Their kids didn’t quit,” Wilson said. “Congrats to them on a great comeback. Good football game that we let slip away.”
Sudfeld finished with 464 yards passing and four touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing after missing the better part of the last six quarters with an ankle injury to lead Indiana’s offense.
Sophomore running back Mike Majette combined for 182 yards on 26 carries to lead the ground attack.
But Rutgers’ consistency and ability to plug away proved to trump Indiana’s own explosive day. Scarlet Knights quarterback Chris Laviano finished 28-for-42 passing for 386 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Robert Martin added 127 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
“We’re better than how we played that last half,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Marcus Oliver said. “They just kept playing.”
Wilson and his players wasted no time expressing concern over moving on to next week’s matchup with Michigan State. Sudfeld said the Hoosiers can’t afford to let the second half against Rutgers loom into the next matchup with the Spartans.
Sudfeld’s concerns mirrored those of Wilson and Oliver. As veteran leaders of a team that relies on young players, they’re next job is not letting Saturday’s result turn into a trend.
“We can do so much better,” Sudfeld said. “We’re just got to bring it all together, lock and arms really ride this season out.”