CHICAGO — There’s a flip side to Iowa safety Tyler Sash’s extraordinary 86-yard interception for a touchdown against Indiana last year.
Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell had the Hoosiers poised to pull the upset over then-No. 4 Iowa. The Hoosiers were on Iowa’s 2-yard line, and Chappell dropped back to pass. He was smacked by Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds from the blind side just as Chappell’s arm was going forward. The ball caromed off four players before Sash grabbed it in midair and raced for the score. Sash’s touchdown cut Indiana’s lead to seven points and kept Iowa within striking distance in an eventual 42-24 win.
Chappell, a fifth-year senior, said he’s watched video of the play and tried to figure out exactly what happened. He said in early August that once camp starts, he’s putting Indiana’s bad offensive plays — especially Sash’s pick-6 — out of his memory to concentrate on the season.
“I’ve seen them over and over again,” Chappell said. “I watch all that stuff and seen what happened. There’s several different ways you can rewind the film and say, ‘How did this happen, how did this happen?’ Or you can say, ‘Shoot, I kind of dropped the ball on my release. I could have gotten rid of it a split second earlier and it would have been a touchdown.’”
Sash’s interception was hardly the only negative game-changing offensive play for Indiana. Midway through the third quarter in a 10-10 game against Penn State, Nittany Lions linebacker Navarro Bowman picked off a screen pass and ran 73 yards for a touchdown. The play spurred Penn State to a 31-20 win and gave Indiana its seventh loss.
Chappell (6-foot-3, 240 pounds) said he had a difficult time mentally shaking off those plays in the off-season.
“It definitely takes a while, shoot, as you can tell, I still think about it right now,” he said. “I think when you throw yourself into something like a college football season, 12 games, you’ve got 12 games guaranteed, and when you throw yourself into something like that as full out as we do, it’s tough when it comes down to one or two plays and you don’t get it done. That’s not an easy thing to deal with.”
Chappell otherwise had a successful season. He threw for 2,941 yards and 17 touchdowns last year. Outside of football, Chappell already has graduated from Indiana’s prestigious Kelley School of Business and is working on his master’s degree in accounting. He’s passed for 3,956 and 21 touchdowns in his Indiana career.
This year, Chappell and his offense have worked more on situational football. The Hoosiers, which were second in Big Ten turnover margin at plus-seven, have placed extra emphasis on third-down conversions. With an experienced offense and an overhauled defense, maintaining possession is crucial toward the Hoosiers’ efforts in returning to a bowl.
“There were a couple of those games where it’s third and 4, third and 5. If we convert and keep the football, it changes the game,” Indiana Coach Bill Lynch said.
That’s where Chappell hopes his four years of starting experience come into play.
“With this league the level of competition, most games are going to come down to four or five plays,” said Chappell, a Bloomington, Ind., native. “Honestly, you look at them, there’s four or five big plays, a turnover here, a sack, a red-zone stop that’s going to determine the game in most of these league games because of the competition.”
The big plays went against Indiana last year. Chappell is trying to ensure the reverse happens this year.