How IU fared in a barometer game vs. OSU

The postgame locker-room scene at Ohio State was different, because for the first time this season, Saturday wasn’t cause for celebration.

But after a 42-35 loss, Indiana coach Tom Allen was still fired up. Every gravelly note that exited his throat was delivered like cannon fire.

“I want you to listen to me carefully. Eyes on me!” Allen shouted. “We ain’t feeling sorry for ourselves!”

“We didn’t play our best football! You know it, and I know it! But you didn’t quit!” Allen said, sharply pointing a finger at a quiet herd of Hoosiers.

“You didn’t quit! You fought ’em!”

By the time Allen spoke with the media, he was calmer. But his message was similar. The Hoosiers (4-1) fought back after falling behind 35-7 early in the third quarter. If mistakes weren’t made, maybe the Hoosiers wouldn’t have fallen so far behind.

As he told his team, pacing, admittedly “ticked off,” the goal wasn’t just to compete. The goal is, one day, to completely close the gap with OSU.

“That’s a really good football team we played. They have a substantially elevated level of play compared to the other teams we’ve seen so far, in so many different ways,” Allen said. “But for our guys to be able to put ourselves in that position, give them credit for making plays. We continued to battle until the very, very end.”

At times, IU showed it could play to OSU’s level, especially in the second half. But if the Hoosiers are going to close the gap with the Buckeyes, what are the next steps?

Let’s take a deeper look at how IU measured up in a barometer game with OSU.

On par: The WRs

Ty Fryfogle, specifically, is showing he’s inferior to no one.

On multiple ocassions, he was matched up with soon-to-be NFL cornerback Shaun Wade, beating him to balls. His first catch of the day was a basketball-style post-up, blocking out Wade for a first-down grab on Michael Penix Jr.’s jump ball.

Fryfogle had just two catches for 34 yards at half, but then he exploded for 184 more. With the Hoosiers trailing 35-7 early in the third quarter, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound senior ran away from the Buckeye secondary for a 63-yard score. On his second of three TDs, Fryfogle adjusted an inbreaking route up the field, mid-play, leading to a 33-yard touchdown grab in the end zone.

He showed smarts, speed, and loads of physicality, as Fryfogle outmuscled Wade again, working through a pass interference penalty on a sideline catch, breaking free for a 56-yard touchdown.

“The coaches, they put me in great spots to make plays,” said Fryfogle, who did have one drop on an early fourth down he’d like back. “But none of that matters when you lose. It’s just disappointing.”

Still, Fryfogle’s production has been unrivaled. He’s the only Big Ten receiver ever to record back-to-back 200-yard games. His seven touchdowns in four games are the most by an IU receiver in such a span since James Hardy totaled eight in 2006. He’s the first Hoosier receiver since another NFL alum, Cody Latimer, to record three consecutive games of 100-plus yards.

While they came up short, the Hoosiers showed their receivers are very much on par with the best in the conference. Whop Philyor made OSU defenders miss in space, finishing with six catches for 56 yards. Miles Marshall, the 6-4 redshirt sophomore, added a career-high 89 yards, including a 68-yard near-score.

David Ellis, who is technically a running back, also had a 51-yard reception to nearly set up a score, if not for his fumble on the very next play.

IU has had talented receivers before, including Latimer, Hardy, and Courtney Roby in the NFL. But the pair of Fryfogle and Philyor may be the best IU has had. Getting production on a more consistent basis is just what the Hoosiers are searching for.

Fyfogle, in particular, has 642 yards receiving this season, which is more in five games than he had in 13 last year (604). Of those yards, though, 320 of them are exclusive to the first half of the Michigan and Michigan State games, along with the 184 that came in the second half at OSU.

“It’s very disappointing, the first half,” Fryfogle said. “We came out just sloppy, you know? … We gotta find ways to put four quarters together. That’s when this football team will be really special.”

On par: The QB

Playing just six games in 2019, Penix showed flashes of brilliance. Now, it’s become more than evident that Penix can perform at an elite level, pretty consistently.

He has now thrown for over 300 yards in three straight games, hitting 491 yards in his latest outing at Ohio State.

He was far from happy about the outcome. This is just his second loss at quarterback for IU, and he threw a damaging pick-6 to Wade in the second half. He also couldn’t muster a final drive when IU’s defense got him the ball back — twice — at the end.

But he did everything else to put IU in a game that appeared lost. He hung in the pocket in spectacular fashion, including one third-and-14 early in the fourth quarter. During that play, he somehow sidestepped a free rusher off the edge, OSU linebacker Baron Browning, and flowed to his right — with both his center and right guard getting blown back — and made a throw with Buckeye defenders literally breathing down his neck.

Still, he delivered a strike to Philyor for a first down.

“Mike, he’s very special,” Fryfogle said. “He has the ability to make any throw on the field. He can just do anything.”

Not only has Penix shown an ability to do magic, but he’s developing in more basic ways. The touch on his deep ball just continues to improve, evidenced by his touchdowns to Fryfogle and his deep bombs to Ellis and Marshall.

Penix now has 1,561 yards, which surpasses the 1,394 he produced in 2019. That’s 312 yards a game, which is tops in the Big Ten.

Justin Fields may have gotten the better of Saturday’s matchup, but Penix continues to prove he’s not only a good quarterback at IU, but one of the better ones, period. Like any great QB, he was left wanting more.

“We can do better. We just have to execute better,” Penix said. “We have to come out and find a way to win. … Defense gave us another opportunity on the field. We just have to take advantage of it.”

More to go: The defense

IU was facing an offense that averages 46 points per game and gave up 42. And as far as playmaking quarterbacks go, Fields is among the best.

But there were moments, especially in the first half, when IU’s defense just wasn’t sound. The Hoosiers had given up 73 rushing yards in two previous games, and the Buckeyes rumbled for 307 on Saturday.

For the most part, IU has been a good tackling team this season. That wasn’t always the case in Columbus.

“It was not good, and a lot of it was on Justin Fields,” Allen said. “He’s so strong, so quick, and some of our better players consistently couldn’t get him on the ground.”

IU’s defense has been incredibly improved in 2020, but they weren’t able to dictate overly much. Then again, that’s a special OSU offense, and IU’s defense made plays. Two first-half interceptions were critical in keeping it from being an even more lopsided score, and OSU did not score offensively in the second half.

“It’s just a Catch-22 they put you in with their talent,” Allen said. “But I tell ya, for our kids to be able to stay the course and keep fighting and keep playing and have a chance — we had the ball at the end of the game in the fourth quarter, down by seven, to win the game. But we weren’t able to do it.”

More to go: The o-line

A couple of weeks ago, IU offensive line coach Darren Hiller somewhat rebuffed praise from Allen about his unit’s progress, because he said there was more work ahead.

OSU proved that right.

IU finished with minus-1 yard on the ground, which is the program’s first negative-yardage performance since OSU held the Hoosiers to minus-12 in 2003.

Historically, the Buckeyes have just been hard to block. They held IU to 17 yards in 2017, as well as 18 yards in ’09. OSU allowed just seven yards to the Hoosiers in ’06.

“We talk about it a lot, and I was concerned about our ability to run the ball against these guys, and it proved to be true,” Allen said. “So it’s something we have to make a major priority, gotta get a whole lot better up front, and do a better job of running the football, to take some pressure off of our pass game.”

IU continued to be without starting left tackle Caleb Jones on Saturday. He was, for the second week in a row, replaced by junior-college transfer Luke Haggard.

Haggard, at 6-7, 275 pounds, doesn’t give the Hoosiers a lot of beef, so it was somewhat inevitable that IU might struggle in this department. But if Jones continues to be out, IU’s line, as a whole, has to figure out a way to establish a more consistent ground game.

IU has had talented lines in the past, especially with NFLers like Dan Feeney and Wes Martin. But OSU has been — and continues to be — hard for the Hoosiers to move in the trenches.

That’s an area where IU really has to close the gap.

15 comments

  1. Ohio State, the 21 point favorite, was supposed to win going away. Instead they got punched in the mouth. IU had the better defense, better quarterback and better receivers. That was not supposed to happen. IU will be the better team in all their games for the rest of the season. This team SHOULD finish as a Top 10 team. And next year’s team will be even better. Most of us have waited DECADES for a team like this. Remember when Tom Allan first said his goal was to compete for Big Ten Championships? Everyone (Including me) laughed. The Big Ten Network used to talk down to him as if he wasn’t worthy of being on the same stage with the “real” coaches. Does anyone doubt him now? Thank you Tom Allan. Relentless energy, belief and passion can accomplish amazing things.

  2. IU did rise back up and show OSU they wouldn’t quit. IU players have learned a lot the past year and a half but not how to beat a #3 team, most teams don’t learn this. IU does have players that can play with and better than OSU players, the just don’t have enough of them yet. Many didn’t believe coach Allen could get IU to this point but he and his staff have done a very good job getting this team to this level. The rest of the B1G will struggle when playing OSU this year.

  3. Great point, HC. And T.A.’s players will derive great value in watching the game tapes because you learn more from failure than you do from success. IU’s players will clearly see the mistakes that should not have been made and, in a perverse way, take solace in the fact that they had it within their power to beat OSU. On the flip side, they will also see the great plays they made against arguably the best FB players in the country.

    My guess is that film study of this game will boost team moral and go a long way to improve performance through the rest of the season.

    Imagine how Haggard must have felt when he was told he’d be the starter on Saturday! Welcome to the Big Ten, young man!

  4. Yes, IU made a competitive game vs OSU. IU did not have the better defense but definitely was competitive after falling behind 35-7. So was the offense after falling behind 35-7. Conclusion: Yes, team morale should be boosted with confidence knowing IU football can play with the best teams. However, not to be forgotten and needed to be addressed are the plays that allowed a 28 point deficit. I am sure they will be addressed along with trying to improve the run game enough to make the pass game better and vice versa.

  5. The defense had probably never encountered a QB as strong and quick as Fields. On a lot of those missed sacks/tackles, Fields just side-stepped IU’s defenders, or shook them off like they were children. Part of the problem was that the IU defenders came at him straight on at full speed, wanting to “hit” him instead of tackle him. In HS, we were taught that when you approached your prey, you slowed your forward movement down just a little, allowing you to move laterally so you can make contact and wrap your arms around the ball carrier. IU’s defenders also went high on Fields, which makes it easier to avoid. I thought they should have gone low, and tackle him around the knees or lower legs. Having said all that, IU did sack Fields five times in the game.

  6. Who else can do as good or better job on OSU qb including offensive line than what IU did? Bama, Clemson, and others by a kinda surprise defensive scheme that confuses OSU OL and qb?
    So IU losses to legitimate # 3 team in country.
    The rest of the season will tell IU football 2020 season story.
    IS MARYLAND GOING TO PLAY?

  7. Looks like Maryland cautiously be on for game vs IU. The hope is IU doesn’t come down with virus issues after Maryland game. IU shouldn’t because that’s why the precautions are in place and things should be projected to be ok after game.

  8. Yes IU pass rushers should have gone lower on Fields as that is the best way to tackle bigger stronger players. IU did put pressure on Fields despite their OL that was supposed to be one of the best in the country so our DL and LBs must be pretty good. The INTs were important but fumbling the one down in OSU territory negated the take-away. IU’s defense played well most of the game but let some plays get away from them. The offense had its moments and really turned it on in the second half.

    If IU plays that way against the other teams in the B1G IU will win through the rest of the season. Clean up the mistakes and IU will romp through the rest of the season opponents. When you break down the film IU did a lot of good things against the #3 team in the land but a couple of major mistakes really hurt. The Ellis fumble going into OSU’s end zone turned into a 14 point swing. Matthews INT and fumble took points away and Penix’s INT gave up 7 points to OSU. All in all just cleaning up those mistakes gives IU a 21 point win. What could have been and what can happen the rest of the season by learning the lessons from the OSU game.

    1. IU gets pressure beyond what the front 6 bring, V. Wommack hasn’t been shy about sending the corners, safeties and monster / rover, which is why we get pressure. Occasionally, it works well, and sometimes we get torched. It’s a risky approach but one we use at different spots on the field and from different positions.

      The issue with Fields, in addition to his lights out athleticism, is his size. He’s as big or bigger than most of our back 7, as fast or much much faster than all of them, and extremely strong. That’s a set of characteristics we haven’t seen and won’t see again, which is why he’s so coveted by NFL teams.

  9. Reality check. The only game that winless PSU has been ‘in’ was their first.
    We could barely run against them. Hiller has yet to successfully land a 4* O lineman. Run blocking consists of a 3 point pre snap position, not 2. Considering the talent, size, technique differential up front…IU players actually played very well. The OL situation needs to be seriously addressed. OSU wasn’t an abberation..but the continuance of a trend. Fortunately, most everything else has been vastly improved.

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