BLOOMINGTON — Senior Day will take on a different meaning for Indiana when it hosts Minnesota in its final home game Saturday at Memorial Stadium (2:30 p.m., BTN).
A number of seniors who will be honored on the field will have options to come back in 2022 because of the extra season granted by the NCAA due to last year’s COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether some of the players take advantage of that opportunity, or others will be invited back, remains to be seen. But Indiana head coach Tom Allen said he intends to honor all seniors regardless of status.
“Here’s the reality, you can grant everybody their COVID year, but we wouldn’t be able to bring any high school players, with a whole class,” Allen said. “So that’s not realistic. No one in the country is going to do that, and so you have to make those decisions about who is going to be in these spots, whether you keep the guy for an extra year or do you go out and get a high school player or somebody else that’s going to fill that position.”
IU (2-8, 0-7 Big Ten) has stumbled through a disappointing season, in danger of finishing without a win in the Big Ten for the first time since Kevin Wilson’s first season as IU coach in 2011. Injuries have played a role, most notably to preseason All-Big Ten quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (shoulder) and preseason All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen (foot), who have both been out since early October. In Allen’s press conference Monday, he mentioned 30 injuries across the board during the 2021 season and 18 season-ending injuries.
That makes upcoming decisions in December and January regarding players critical. The right ones could help IU bounce back and show 2021 was an aberration after posting back-to-back January bowl seasons in 2019 and 2020. The wrong ones could continue to set the program back.
“It’s really roster management at a level we’ve never seen before of being able to go through and make a lot of decisions, and sometimes you are working on information you don’t know the complete picture of yet,” Allen said. “So it’s about taking the information you have right now and making the best decisions possible and being very open and honest with our guys about where they stand.”
Minnesota (6-4, 4-3) comes into Saturday’s matchup still in the hunt for the Big Ten West title, a game behind Iowa and Wisconsin. Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan, from Hazard, Kentucky, has passed for 1,540 yards with seven TDs and seven interceptions. Minnesota still ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing offense despite losing top running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts to season-ending injuries.
Allen has made playing hard for the seniors a theme this week after the Hoosiers put forth a lackluster effort in a 38-3 loss to Rutgers last week.
“It’s a special day for the seniors, recognizing these guys who have come here and done so much for our program,” Allen said. “I just want to make sure this team finishes well, and it was a good solid week (of practice). We’ve just got to continue — we’ve got more things to do here before kickoff on Saturday.”
For IU defensive lineman Ryder Anderson, it will be his second Senior Day in two years. A grad transfer, Anderson had a senior day at Ole Miss.
Anderson, who has posted 3.5 sacks, has no regrets about his decision to transfer for IU.
“It’s been, you know, a rough season,” Anderson said. “We didn’t really meet our expectations. One thing that I would say is that I built a lot of special bonds here, a lot of special people and I will be grateful for that forever. I would never change my decision to come here just based off of my experience here.”
The move to IU also allowed Anderson the opportunity to play on the edge on the defensive line after lining up mostly at tackle at Ole Miss. That versatility could help the 6-foot-6, 266-pound Anderson during the NFL draft process in the coming months.
Anderson said it would be memorable to finish his IU football career at home on a high note.
“It would mean everything,” Anderson said. “The team is really banged up at this point. I’m sure everybody has got something that they are fighting through, that’s playing. So the cards are going to be stacked against us, but that’s life. Life is full of wins and losses. That’s all it really is at the end of the day.”