4 THINGS WE LEARNED: Indiana 34, Northwestern 3

There is a reason they preach takeaways.

IU has forced eight fumbles this season.

Seven have come during the four-game conference winning streak. Five have been forced in the last two victories. Takeaways can swing a game, and the Hoosiers continue to prove it.

Tiawan Mullen, the freshman corner, was in on two of those, ripping the ball out of Aidan Smith’s hands on Northwestern’s first offensive play. Mullen then recovered the second, which was knocked out by linebacker Cam Jones.

IU’s defense has been gashed at times in 2019, but takeaways can reduce the damage. Northwestern’s three-point outing reduced the Hoosiers’ per game allowance to 20, which places them sixth in the conference in scoring defense.

Allen preaches takeaways for a reason. It’s encouraging to see that message leading to results on the field.

Quarterback depth is a gift that keeps giving.

Tom Allen has said it over and over, and the Hoosiers have been reminded all too often.

It’s important to have at least two capable quarterbacks.

While the starter remains Michael Penix Jr. heading into a bye week, Peyton Ramsey has had to relieve the redshirt freshman on three occasions this season because of injury. As concerns about Penix’s durability grow, the value of Ramsey, who stuck it out at IU despite losing his starting spot, just becomes more and more obvious.

The fact IU ranks atop the Big Ten in passing offense through nine games is a credit to the depth of the quarterback room. In almost equal time, Penix and Ramsey have accumulated similar numbers:

Penix has completed 110-of-160 (68 percent) for 1,394 yards, 10 touchdowns, and four interceptions. Ramsey is 113-of-157 (72 percent) for 1,302 yards, 9 touchdowns, and three interceptions.

Penix’s efficiency number (157.56) is just a measly .83 greater than Ramsey’s (156.73).

There are still noticeable differences in arm talent, which is why it would be surprising for Allen to reverse course and demote Penix at this point. Nevertheless, Ramsey looks like an improved quarterback in his first year under offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer.

And the value of the Hoosiers’ depth can’t end with Ramsey. If Penix continues to miss time, redshirt freshman Jack Tuttle, another prized acquisition from this past offseason, has to continue to progress. He may be needed at some point, whether it’s this year or next.

Stevie’s groove is back.

Through the first five weeks of the season, the Hoosiers’ inability to establish a running game was concerning.

Allen was preaching patience to sophomore Stevie Scott, who had just 281 yards on 76 carries (3.7 ypc). In those five games, the Hoosiers were 3-2.

Granted, the Hoosiers’ last four wins have come against rush defenses ranked in the conference’s bottom half, including Maryland (ninth), Northwestern (10th), Nebraska (12th), and Rutgers (14th). But the momentum Scott has gained on the ground is palpable.

Scott has rushed for 456 yards during the Hoosiers’ four-game winning streak, eclipsing the 100-mark three times. His per-carry average was 6.3, as he seems to be picking up steam and crumpling would-be tacklers with more regularity.

The question is whether Scott and the Hoosier offensive line can keep this going. Right out of the bye, they will face the No. 1 rush defense in the Big Ten, Penn State, a squad surrendering just 68.4 yards per game on the ground.

Last season, Scott seemed to get stronger as it went. Pull out his 204- and 114-yard efforts versus Ball State, and Scott averaged 3.6 yards per carry in the first half of the season. In his last five games of 2018, he was a picture of consistency, gaining 580 yards (5.1 ypc), including a 138-yard effort versus the Nittany Lions.

Whop is just explosive.

Junior Whop Philyor came into the year bragging about the explosiveness of his teammates, especially returners David Ellis and Cole Gest

“He’s like a bat out of hell,” the loquacious slot receiver said of Gest.

What’s becoming more apparent every week is the term “explosive” may fit Philyor more than anyone else on the team.

Out of the pass-catchers on the Hoosiers’ roster, Philyor far and away has the highest number of plays of 20-plus yards. His catches of 41 and 35 yards Saturday boosted his season total to 17, more than twice as many as the next Hoosier receiver, Donavan Hale (8).

Philyor has had at least one play of 20-plus in all but one game (Maryland) this season.

Those were the only two receptions of the night for Philyor, which made it a relatively quiet game for the Big Ten’s leader in catches (59) and yards (813). But with continued uncertainty at quarterback, it’s good for whoever is behind center to have a playmaker like Philyor.

Philyor needs 20 catches and 452 yards over his final four games to match James Hardy (2007, receptions) and Ernie Jones (1987, yards) for their respective IU season records.

What’s next?

Bye week

The Hoosiers will take their final regular-season bye, having capped a perfect 4-0 stretch since their last.

The combined record of the teams the Hoosiers just beat during their current streak is 10-25, though it’s good they handled them by a combined margin of 141-62.

This upcoming stretch will be much more difficult. IU first has to travel out to No. 5 Penn State (8-0) before returning home to face No. 14 Michigan (6-2), a program they haven’t beaten since 1987. The regular season closes, per usual, with rival Purdue (3-6).

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