NOTES: Johnson gets IU’s game ball

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Jamar Johnson may be the most versatile player inside Indiana’s defense.

The freshman proved it on Saturday.

Johnson, who can play all five secondary positions, made a key interception in the end zone late in the first half to take a scoring opportunity away from Rutgers and preserve a sizable IU lead. It was the first pick of Johnson’s young career and it also marked the second consecutive week that IU has had a freshman intercept a pass.

“Kid came in there and made a huge play to get an interception, stop a touchdown and get us the ball back, keep them from scoring,” Allen said. “… He’s got to rise up and make plays. Another true freshman out there making big plays at key times. That’s exciting for this program.”

Johnson made the interception while playing the hybrid safety spot and covering Rutgers tight end Jerome Washington.

“I gave him the game ball,” Allen said. “A week ago, the guy was fourth string at that position.”

Westbrook gets involved
Through four games, Indiana struggled to consistently involve Nick Westbrook in its passing game.

On Saturday, the Hoosiers made him a priority — at least early.

Westbrook caught four passes for a season-high 62 yards, including a 23-yard grab over the middle of the field on IU’s first offensive play of the game.

“That was the game plan, to get our outside receivers involved a little bit more, throw the ball downfield and take some more shots this game,” Westbrook said. “We have such great receivers, we know that we need to utilize them.”

Westbrook didn’t have a catch in the second half.

Hoosiers still nursing injuries
Indiana played short-handed on Saturday afternoon, entering the Rutgers game without receivers Luke Timian and Whop Philyor, defensive tackle Jacob Robinson and defensive backs A’Shon Riggins and Cam Jones.

“We thought they could (play), then as the week progressed and moved along, it got less likely,” Allen said. “It was like, hey, you know what, it’s probably best to hold them. They didn’t play obviously. That took away two of our top receivers.”

And two of IU’s top defensive backs, in Riggins and Jones.

It was known that Jones would be a game-time decision after he left last week’s game against Michigan State with an apparent injury. Riggins’ injury situation was more of a surprise. Allen did not specify the nature of Riggins’ issue.

“He just couldn’t go,” Allen said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back, get him ready to roll. Quite a few guys out today, so we overcame a lot of that.”

Shooting for the end zone
Indiana had a chance to kick a field goal with a 24-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.

Instead, with his offense positioned at the Rutgers 18-yard line, Tom Allen elected to go for the end zone. It didn’t work.

Peyton Ramsey’s fade to the corner was intercepted for a touchback, leaving some wondering why Allen wouldn’t take the points. Allen had his reason.

“Here’s the thing,” Allen said. “We’ve done this study for the last two years. There’s a study where you go through — and we have a whole scientific approach to how you manage a game. The study is based on the history of games (and) the difference of going up by 13 points or 10 points. It doesn’t change anything. … When teams know all they got to get is 6 points and then a touchdown to beat you, the 13 doesn’t help you. The 14 does. We wanted to go up by two full scores. To me, the rationale was, whether you’re up by 10 or 13, it’s a wash. So we went for it. At the end of the day, it worked out for us. That’s the rationale. I’d do it again every time.”

Harris steps up
With Indiana’s top two slot receivers out with injuries, Harris stepped up.

In doing so, he had the best offensive game since his freshman season in 2014.

Harris matched his career high with seven catches for 54 yards. His two-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was his first since Sept. 20, 2014 at Missouri.

Harris, who has returned from three ACL injuries in as many seasons, has found the end zone on punt returns in each of the past two years. But Saturday was different.

“It felt awesome,” Harris said. “The last time I was able to get into the end zone at receiver was freshman year, so that felt pretty good. There wasn’t the huge uproar that we usually get at our home stadium. It was silence, so it didn’t feel as great as it would be at home. But hopefully I can get one at home as well.”