It came down to the final play, but Indiana football has finally beaten a top-10 team for the first time in 33 years.
It was thanks to quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s two-yard scramble where he had to stretch for the pylon and hit it by just inches, but allowed for the Hoosiers to beat the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions 36-35 in overtime Saturday. The win marks Indiana’s first against a top-10 team since 1987 when they defeated Ohio State 31-10. It has also been one a long time coming for the entire Indiana program.
“I just really feel so blessed to be there in this program and these kids who come here with the belief that we are about to do things like we did tonight,” head coach Tom Allen said. “Just cannot be prouder of a group of young men for believing, staying the course and finding a way to win.”
The build up to this win has been lengthy for Allen and the Hoosiers. For years Indiana has always competed against the top teams in the Big Ten, but has never closed the deal. Big plays and timely miscues have been a thorn in the Hoosiers’ side in many of those contests. However, IU found a way to bring it all together and play a complete game to beat the Nittany Lions.
Indiana (1-0) came out slow to start the contest as Penn State marched right down the field to take an early 7-0 lead in the first. A balanced offense gave IU’s defense trouble as Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford connected with a wide open Pat Freiermuth for the early score. Indiana’s defense buckled down and found their rhythm as the next three Nittany Lions’ drives resulted in two punts and an interception by junior defensive back Jaylin Williams.
The Indiana defense played a key roll in the first half, forcing three first half turnovers and keeping Penn State (0-1) to only seven points.
“You never know what they are going to come out with, what they are going to run early,” linebacker Micah McFadden said. “So, I think that first drive there were some things they were throwing at us that we were not really ready for, but we made some quick adjustments on the sideline and throughout the first half.”
Meanwhile, the problem for the Hoosiers was finding their rhythm offensively. Penix and the offense could not find a groove early in the first half. The redshirt sophomore was off target on a lot of his throws either overthrowing his targets or getting just short of their reach. The offense’s first three drives combined for 15 plays, 17 yards and a field goal. It seemed as if the offense that received a lot of praise for their capabilities this season may hold Indiana back in this one.
“It was our first game back and we wish we could have hit all of our targets early on in the game but just we kept a 1-0 mindset and moved forward,” Penix said. “I told our receivers on the sideline that we were going to connect, we just have to be patient and let the game come to us.”
Then, the momentum shifted. Once IU’s defense forced Clifford into difficult throws in coverage, Penix and the offense started gaining some ground. After a Nittany Lion punt, Indiana took the ball 62 yards in six plays for a score. Penix completed two passes to Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot respectively for 29 yards. Later in the drive, Scott broke through the Penn State interior from 14 yards out to take the lead.
An interception by safety Jamar Johnson set Indiana up with the ball at the Penn State four yard line. Scott barreled his way in for his second score of the day, extending the lead to 17-7 for Indiana midway through the second quarter.
“I think we just ceased the opportunities in the moment,” Johnson said. “He overthrew a pick to me, so I had to catch it.”
Indiana had all of the momentum heading into halftime after a Jake Pinegar field goal hit the crossbar, releasing a sigh of relief for the Hoosiers. It looked like Indiana’s defense could keep up with Clifford who completed 11-of-16 passes for just 91 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
That would not be the case as the third quarter got under way.
Penn State controlled the ball for nearly 12 minutes in the third quarter and took the breath out of Indiana defensively. Clifford may have had a slow first half, but he broke out during the third quarter. Just like last year, Clifford made plays with his legs and ability to keep plays alive. He rushed 10 times for 82 yards in the third period and brought Penn State’s deficit to 17-14 after a 35-yard touchdown run.
Clifford later found Jahan Dotson wide open for a 60-yard score giving them the lead 21-17 in the fourth. Clifford finished 24-of-35 on the day with 238 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Nobody was hanging their head when they went up and I think that really shows just how together this team is, how much of a family we are and I think that made the difference,” McFadden said.
Penix and the offense went cold during much of the second half as the Hoosiers had back-to-back punts and a turnover on downs in the fourth quarter. After the fourth down stop with 1:47 left in the game, Devyn Ford ran the ball in from 14 yards out to extend the lead to 28-20. Ford had a wide open lane to the goal line as it looked like Indiana made the strategic move to let Ford score and get the ball back quickly.
Once they got the ball back, Indiana needed 75 yards to score and get the two-point conversion in 1:42. Everything was getting out of Indiana’s reach and the chance at achieving a monumental win was slipping away.
Then, all of a sudden Penix and the offense shifted gears. Penix completed 5-of-6 passes during the drive for 54 yards. Young wide receivers Javon Swinton and Jacolby Hewitt came up big with three catches that led to Hendershot catching the ball at the Penn State one yard line. Penix took the ball on a sneak in and scored forcing the game into overtime with the score tied at 28.
“I think he is really, really special,” Allen said about Penix. “You got to have a great quarterback if you are going to beat a top-10 team in the country and that is what we got.”
Clifford and the Nittany Lions scored to start the overtime period to take a 35-28 lead, but the time to shine was now for Penix and the Hoosiers.
Penix found his 1000-yard receiver from a year ago in Whop Philyor and brought Indiana within one, 35-34. The focus was then on what was the Hoosiers’ offense going to do, try for another overtime or the win.
“We have been close and I am sick and tired of being close,” Allen said regarding the decision to go for two in overtime. “I just decided we were going and I told the offensive coaches to be thinking about that.”
As Indiana started the two-point conversion, Penix went to his left to try and make a play. Then, he raced to the left pylon and reached out to hit it as he went out of bounds. After a lengthy review, the call of a good conversion stood on the field and the comeback was completed.
“I saw the opportunity to go out and show the world what the Indiana Hoosiers were all about,” Penix said.
The opportunity presented itself and Penix went all in as the conversion lifted Allen and the Hoosiers to the thrilling victory.
Penix went 19-of-36 for 170 yards, two total touchdowns and one interception.
The victory was just Indiana’s second all-time against Penn State and this once could not have come at a better time. Throughout everything that has happened during the offseason with the season starting late, Indiana had to find a way to keep momentum from last season. This victory against the Nittany Lions now proves that the Indiana Hoosiers can beat the top teams in the league and this program is on the rise in the league.
“If you look back at the last few years, we did not really finish how we wanted to,” Penix said. “That is something that we have been stressing all offseason. We have been waiting for this opportunity and the guys made plays when they needed to be made so that is one thing we did today, we made sure we finished.”
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