Tevin Coleman of the Indiana Hoosiers, left, watches a backward lateral pass fall to the ground as Brock Vereen of the Minnesota Golden Gophers defends in the final seconds at Memorial Stadium on Saturday in Bloomington, Indiana. The ball was picked up by the Gophers to seal the game for Minnesota. (Michael Hickey / Getty Images)
Bloomington, Ind. — Kevin Wilson stood directly in front of the play on the sideline, agonizing over his decision to try a swing pass and hoping running back Tevin Coleman would fall on the loose football.
He did not, and a potential tying or winning drive ended in stunning fashion. Indiana lost 42-39 to Minnesota on Saturday as Gophers linebacker Aaron Hill recovered Coleman’s bobbled lateral on second-and-goal with 25 seconds remaining. The Hoosiers’ third straight defeat dealt a crushing blow to their bowl hopes.
“That was a tough loss,” Wilson said. “I made a poor call and we did not execute the play at the end. Because of it, we lost. On a swing play there is always the chance for a lateral. I’m really disappointed. Our guys didn’t play well early, but they battled and hung in there.”
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld, benched after five consecutive starts, replaced an ineffective Tre Roberson at halftime and led Indiana back from a 35-13 deficit. Sudfeld was 13-of-20 for 189 yards and two touchdown passes; Roberson 8-for-18 for 80 yards and one score.
Sudfeld’s 30-yard connection with Cody Latimer gave the Hoosiers a 39-35 lead with 5:33 remaining. They lost it on the next series, as Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson hit tight end Maxx Williams for what proved to be a game-winning, 50-yard touchdown.
Indiana (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) drove 60 yards in seven plays, including two 20-yard completions by Sudfeld, to the Gophers’ 9-yard line. Following an incompletion and a Minnesota timeout, Sudfeld lined up in a shotgun formation with Coleman to his left. He released a quick swing toss from around the 16-yard line as Coleman ran toward the right flat. The football bounced off the hands of a twisting Coleman around the 18-yard line as he was hit by Minnesota’s Brock Vereen.
“It was behind me, I just tried to make a play out of it,” Coleman said. “It’s tough to deal with. I am not happy at all.”
Coleman stumbled to his feet and saw the loose ball resting about a yard in front of him. Thinking the play was an incomplete pass, he didn’t dive for it. Instead, a charging Hill scooped the fumble to secure Minnesota’s third straight victory under acting coach Tracy Claeys.
“That was what the timeout was for,” Claeys said. “Aaron Hill had a great reaction. We brought two guys off the edge to force the quarterback to throw to the back. We wanted to make sure everybody knew what was going on. It just happened (Sudfeld) threw it backwards.”
Nelson went 16 of 23 for 298 yards and four touchdowns. Minnesota’s David Cobb rushed 29 times for 188 yards and a score and also caught two passes for 48 yards.
Indiana now is forced to win three of its final four games, including one of its two remaining road contests at Ohio State and Wisconsin, to secure bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007.
“We still have a shot,” Roberson said. “We’re all playing for each other. Everyone is down. We just have to learn from it and get ready for next week.”
The Hoosiers’ rally fell short despite gaining 227 yards on the ground. Coleman ran 14 times for 108 yards and a touchdown for Indiana before his fateful mistake. Stephen Houston posted 111 yards on 13 carries. It was the first time Indiana had two rushers post 100 yards in a Big Ten game since Oct. 29, 2011.
The Hoosiers were in a 22-point hole after Cobb exploded for a 27-yard TD with 6:24 left in the third quarter. But touchdowns on four straight possessions, combined with three consecutive defensive stops, allowed Indiana to improbably take a late lead.
“You definitely have to take a lot of pride in that,” receiver Shane Wynn said. “This is a team that is willing to do anything for anybody and just keeps pushing and fighting.”
Indiana safety Greg Heban made a lunging tackle at the feet of Jalen Myrick, who came two yards shy of converting a fake punt on fourth-and-5 from his own 36 with 8:45 to play. That set up the heroics of Sudfeld and Latimer, whose touchdown put the Hoosiers in front for the first time since they led 13-7.
A string of 28 unanswered Minnesota points ended when Sudfeld connected with Wynn on a 40-yard touchdown with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter. One series later, a read-option pitch from Roberson to Coleman led to his 55-yard TD down the right sideline on the first snap of the fourth quarter. That drew Indiana within 35-27.
After Minnesota turned it over on downs, Houston powered in from the 4-yard line to give Indiana a chance to tie. Sudfeld’s scramble on the 2-point conversion attempt was stopped short.
Minnesota outgained the Hoosiers 301-162 in the first half and led 28-13 at the break.