Indiana had a lot to prove in this one.
The Hoosiers first Big Ten game resulted in a less than stellar performance, a 51-10 beatdown in Bloomington at the hands of the Buckeyes. The Spartans represented an opportunity for Indiana to prove they could go toe to toe with the top of the Big Ten.
Credit where credit is due, the Hoosiers hung tough with the Spartans for the duration of the game, and even let a few different opportunities to take a commanding lead slip through their fingers. Despite the loss, there were several areas of Saturday’s contest that should leave Indiana fans feeling confident.
The outstanding play of freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. cannot be understated, as the Spartans proved unable to find an answer for him all game long. Penix finished the contest completing 33 of his 42 passing attempts for 286 yards and 3 touchdowns, as well as adding an additional touchdown on the ground. The unique arm talent of Penix was on display throughout the contest, and his arm strength allowed his receivers time to consistently pick up yards after the catch.
Junior wide receiver Whop Philyor in-particular was a benefactor of Penix’s strong performance, recording 14 catches on 17 targets for 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the afternoon. Philyor was a nightmare all game long for the Spartans, and despite an array of different defenders being thrown at him throughout the game, no one found a way to contain him.
Defensively, the bright spots for the Hoosiers were few and far between. Indiana did a good job of limiting the ground game for the Spartans, holding Elijah Collins to just 56 yards on 17 carries but senior quarterback Brian Lewerke routinely hurt the Hoosiers defense with his scrambling ability, picking up 78 yards on 12 carries.
The secondary didn’t fare much better, allowing Lewerke to pick them apart throughout the game to the tune of 300 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. proved too much to handle for an outmatched Indiana secondary, recording 5 catches for 117 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his own right.
Despite Indiana’s defensive struggles, true freshman corner Tiawan Mullen proved to be a major bright spot, finding himself matched up with Stewart for much of Saturday’s contest and the young corner more than held his own.
The Hoosiers held their own, but that’s not anything new is it?
Indiana has made a living off close games against superior opponents, they play well and hang tough, but ultimately fall short in the end.
You can see the talent on the field and the reasons for optimism, especially offensively, are obvious. Yet at some point the Hoosiers need to take the next step from moral victories to actual victories. The Hoosiers are close, but taking that next step continues to elude them.