LINCOLN, Neb. – Indiana (6-2, 3-2 B1G) continued their road trip with a visit to Nebraska (4-4, 2-3 B1G), where the Hoosiers have not won a game since 1959. On Saturday, IU pulled off a season and program-defining victory. The 6-2 start counts for IU’s best since 1993; on the other hand, Nebraska continues to struggle after having lofty predictions to win the Big Ten West. Undeniably, this is the biggest victory for the Hoosiers since Tom Allen has taken over as head coach. Now, Indiana is bowl eligible for the first time since the 2016 season.
Below are the biggest takeaways from the win against Nebraska.
Indiana proved they can compete on the big stage and have not reached their ceiling
Indiana came to Nebraska, a historic football program, and despite IU having presumably the stronger team and better record, questions surrounded Indiana’s ability to compete on the big stage. They made sense: Indiana’s last win in front of a crowd of more than 75,000 came in Columbus in 1987. Nebraska pulled out all the stops to put the pressure on Indiana; they sported the “Blackshirt” alternate jerseys for the first time to try to get Husker Nation as into the game as possible.
Indiana appeared nervous and flat-footed at the beginning of the game, but as the game progressed, they found their rhythm in front of 89,000 fans. Seeing them compete on this level shows that Tom Allen and his staff have developed a confident team that can enter a grand environment and deliver. Remember, IU still plays at Penn State in three weeks, and travels to Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan next year.
Allen emphasized that this was a program-defining victory, and he will continue this momentum to call recruits today as he travels back to Bloomington. Many can see that Allen and the rest of the Indiana coaches do not just talk, and they have finally reached the next level of competitiveness.
We still do not know the ceiling of this Indiana team. They have continued to surprise, and the next step will be to grind through the remainder of the Big Ten schedule. Can they win the games they should (NW and Purdue)? Can they defend Bloomington against Michigan, who has not lived to expectations? Will they pull off a historic upset against Penn State in Happy Valley?
Indiana has more room to develop into a two-dimensional offense
Nebraska had a fairly multi-dimensional attack with a split between rushing and passing, but Indiana aired it out most of the game behind QB Peyton Ramsey. The redshirt junior aired it out 40 times on Saturday afternoon. IU found a lot of success with that formula, and OC Kalen DeBoer showed extreme confidence in his passing attack. However, when Indiana needs some short yardage plays, they still usually go through the air.
Stevie Scott carried the ball 16 times for 68 yards and a TD in Lincoln. Scott has run for at least 60 yards in every game since the week 3 loss to OSU. Still, Indiana had nearly three times as many yards through the air as on the ground. Going forward, developing the run game will help stabilize the offense and improve clock management for Indiana.
Regardless of Penix or Ramsey, Indiana should feel comfortable in their chances to win
Ramsey and Michael Penix have played nearly the same amount after today, and together, they have played phenomenally from the QB position. In eight games, they have completed 70.5% of their passes for over 2400 yards, 18 TD, and 7 INT. Both have shown how difficult of a decision Tom Allen needed to make at the beginning of the season to tab Penix as starter. Both QBs throw the ball accurately, make smart plays, and show consistency that all give Indiana a chance every week. In fact, Ramsey has been becoming increasingly dangerous as the season progresses. This is the first time that Ramsey passed for over 300 yards this season.
Penix warmed up on the field early, but we will have to see more information on where he stands in his recovery from injury. Allen did not make a statement about Penix in the postgame conference. One thing to consider: after facing a struggling Northwestern squad, IU has a bye week before going to Penn State. That might factor into Allen’s decisions on playing anyone injured on Saturday.
Whop continues to be a centerpiece of DeBoer’s offense
WR Whop Philyor had another historic day with 14 catches on 18 targets for 178 yards. Both Ramsey and Penix have shown that Philyor is a go-to target and key to the success of the Hoosier offense. Multiple times, Ramsey targeted Philyor, even if he was not the most open option. Clearly, the Hoosiers trust Whop to secure the football and move the chains against Big Ten opposition.
Philyor has continued to develop into one of the most dangerous WRs in the Big Ten and will force opposing teams to put a high priority on him. Philyor will enter next week leading the Big Ten in receptions, and added to his school record with a 5th game of double-digit catches. Philyor’s ability to make plays will give all other receivers more opportunities to make big gains when they are focused on him.
Wommack has plenty of room for improvement for his defense
Indiana showed early defensive struggles in Lincoln. They could not get a stop or takeaway, and Nebraska kept getting chunk plays to move down the field. Before the end of the first half, they started to settle in, made some stops when they needed, and forced a couple turnovers. Allen Stallings‘ big fumble return set up a Ramsey to Fryfogle TD to give IU a 16-14 lead. Still, IU’s defense, led by co-DC Kane Wommack, needs to develop more consistency early. Missed tackles and blown assignments continue to show up. In defense of the Hoosiers, numerous injuries including to Tiawan Mullen and LB Thomas Allen made the task more difficult.
Nebraska showed up strong, even with their own QB difficulties. They started backup QB Noah Vedral, and he went 14-16 for 201 passing yards, 21 rushing yards, and 2 rushing TDs. Third string QB Luke McCaffrey entered the game as well, as Vedral suffered an injury in the second quarter. Wommack adjusted the offense well enough to put pressure on McCaffrey who has not had any significant play time before this game. McCaffrey ended with 71 passing yards, 76 rushing yards, and 1 passing TD.