No. 17 Indiana won on both sides of the ball against a young, new-look Rutgers program under the second tenure of coach Greg Schiano. This is now the first time since 1991 that Indiana has started conference play 2-0.
No game in Big Ten conference play should be taken for granted especially on the road. Coach Tom Allen acknowledges this stating he was “…really proud of our football team. Found a way to win on the road.”
Indiana followed a similar formula to last week. Relying on a strong, stingy defense and forcing Rutgers QB Noah Vedral into high-risk throwing situations that led to three interceptions and many short yardage options being the only open receivers for the Nebraska transfer. After these turnovers, the Hoosiers were able to capitalize and punish for these Rutgers miscues which ultimately made the game unreachable for the Scarlet Knights.
No Indiana game this season has gone without some drama though. As we saw near the end of the game, Indiana knows how to make the top-10 SportsCenter plays, but this time done against the Hoosiers. Even though it was overturned, Rutgers pulled off a remarkable desperation play with 18 (or so) laterals that led to a touchdown. Fortunately for Indiana fans, there was an illegal forward pass during the play that was again down to a few inches that led to the game’s conclusion.
Full of confidence and a 1-0 record, Indiana succeeded in pulling away with a win and more comfortably than a week ago, but it wasn’t perfect. For the second week in a row, Indiana started off slow. Their first five drives consisted of three, three-and-outs and a pair of field goals while the Scarlet Knights were able to score a touchdown halfway through the first quarter.
However, Indiana was able to turn on their offensive attack near halftime. They finally reached the endzone with less than five minutes remaining in the first half on a one yard TD run by Michael Penix Jr. After this drive, the floodgates started to open and Indiana added another TD on a 15-yard pass to Fryfogle less than two minutes later after Vedral’s second interception in as many drives.
The second half continued where the first one left off with more high-octane offense and steadfast defense. Penix connected on two consecutive drives with Peyton Hendershot for short yardage touchdowns which led to Indiana’s largest lead of the day at 22 points. Rutgers came close near the end with some strong drives by Vedral, but ultimately fell short to Indiana’s all-around attack.
Overall, Indiana looked much better than last week, but some may say it is a result of playing Rutgers instead of then No. 8 Penn State. However many of their earlier issues especially with offense did not happen this week. Against Penn State, Penix had exceptional difficulty pulling together consistent, long drives and Indiana had to rely on their defense to bail them out with several key turnovers at crucial moments.
The pass game and the run game both put together a well-balanced attack on the Scarlet Knights. Penix stated a big factor of their offensive success is their offensive line especially with running the ball.
“It’s just simple execution, the o-line doing what they have to do,” Penix said.
Even though Stevie Scott III did not reach the endzone, he added 81 tough yards on the ground with 21 carries.
This week, the defense played exceptional again.
“We see it in practice. They practice hard. It’s just guys making plays.” Penix said about the Hoosiers’ defense.
Reese Taylor credited film analysis for their ability to make big plays on defense and it has been showing on the field.
“Our film study helps slow down the game for us,” Taylor said in the post-game interview.
Again, Indiana still dominated the turnover battle – taking three interceptions while giving up zeri – and were able to capitalize with several large drives that were near perfect under the guidance of Penix. Penix relied much more on his previous favorite receivers Philyor, Fryfogle and Hendershot than last week which is reminiscent of last year’s shutout game against Rutgers in Bloomington. All three were the leading returning receivers from the game last year and posted similar numbers to a year ago.
This now marks the fifth time in a row the Hoosiers have won against Rutgers, but now, Indiana has much more national attention. Also, both teams are looking towards a brighter future with Indiana’s rise to prominence and Rutgers under the guidance of previous long-time coach Greg Schiano who led the Scarlet Knights to a 38-27 win at Michigan State last week.
Two major areas the team needs to improve upon is putting together consistent yardage drives especially early on and increasing their familiarity with unique situations on special teams and defense.
Penix has shown us time and again why he is one of the best in the conference under center. His playmaking ability and football IQ set him apart from many of the rest, but there have been many drives where it looks relatively slow and not optimized especially early in these games. After Penix seems to shake off the rust, it is lights out consistent impressive plays. He and IU head coach Tom Allen need to figure out how to make this side of Penix the only one that is seen on field.
Indiana looked lost at times two weeks in a row when faced with fast, “two-minute” style offense. Both Rutgers and Penn State ate huge yardage quickly against an otherwise impressive defensive outing two weeks in a row. As long as the game is going in Indiana’s direction and they control the tempo, they look like one of the best teams in the country, but when they lose their grasp, it starts looking chaotic.
“Leadership on our coaching staff and in our team,” Allen said. “In my mind, we expected to do things like this.”
After a 2-0 start, Indiana will look to stay level-headed coming back to Bloomington to face the Wolverines who have won 25 in a row against the Hoosiers.
“Our one word for this week was ‘Focus,'” IU linebacker Micah McFadden said. “We’ve got to keep that in mind every week to focus and keep executing.”
Indiana will now return home to play a Michigan team that was shocked at home against Michigan State who Rutgers defeated the week prior in Lansing. The Big Ten East still appears to be Ohio State against the rest, but No. 2 is still quite uncertain. Currently, it looks to be Indiana, but Indiana still needs to make some adjustments to continue their perfect season start in this shortened season.
Featured Photo: Indiana University Athletics