IU Insider Zach Osterman recaps the Hoosiers’ 37-21 win at Rutgers.
IU moved to 2-0 in the Big Ten for the first time in almost 30 years Saturday, thanks to a 37-21 win at Rutgers. Here’s how the No. 13 Hoosiers graded out from that victory:
After a subdued, if successful, Week 1, this was closer to what we expected from Indiana in 2020. Steve Scott (21 carries for 81 yards) was more effective, Sampson James got involved and we even saw Michael Penix get downfield with his legs. Through the air, Penix was solid, shrugging off a 3-of-10 start to complete 14 of his last 16 throws. He was particularly effective in a dominant second half, completing 9-of-10 passes for 164 yards and two scores. Interior line play still runs hot and cold, but overall pass protection improved from Penn State to Rutgers. No turnovers against a team that forced seven in Week 1 was a big piece of the puzzle.
Start with penalties, because they were the only real negative. Some avoidable ones, including two roughing flags that extended eventual touchdown drives and put IU in bad spots. With that out of the way, pretty much everything else was outstanding. IU allowed just 124 yards each on the ground and through the air, forced three turnovers, sacked Noah Vedral four times and allowed a conversion on just 4-of-15 third downs. The secondary was particularly involved against the pass and pressuring Vedral, but Indiana was better at all three levels Saturday. Wipe those two roughing penalties and IU routs Rutgers. Among Big Ten teams that have played two games, IU is third behind Northwestern and Michigan in plays of 10-plus yards allowed, and second only to the Wildcats in plays of 20-plus yards allowed. This is what winning with defense looks like.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Nothing spectacular, nothing horrendous. Rutgers popped one big kickoff return but Indiana bottled a bunch more up inside the 25, against a good returner. Charles Campbell made all three of his kicks, helping IU go a perfect 6-of-6 in red zone scoring opportunities. Punting was solid. Indiana did well to flip field position after Rutgers gained an advantage once or twice. You can nitpick about the onside kick if you want, but Rutgers never came close to making it a game at the end.
Credit where it’s due: Indiana spent this week soaking up an unusual amount of attention and praise. At one point, Tom Allen estimated he was splitting his days 80-20 between his normal responsibilities and the newfound media attention brought by the Penn State win. In that context, IU’s sloppy start wasn’t surprising. But to the credit of its coaching staff, that start didn’t last. Take penalties: IU committed 11 for the game, but four in in the afternoon’s six drives. That spread the other seven across 22 more possessions in total, a noticeable improvement. Indiana also didn’t turn the ball over against a Rutgers team that forced seven takeaways last week at Michigan State. Penix and Nick Sheridan found a good playcalling rhythm in the second half, taking control and putting Rutgers away.
PLAY OF THE GAME
How can we not make it the failed multi-lateral touchdown? In truth, the play of the game was probably one of Penix’s throws on a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to answer Rutgers’ last real push, restoring the Hoosiers’ two-possession lead and putting the Scarlet Knights out of sight for good. Penix was as smooth, commanding and locked in as he’s been all season on that series. But spare a thought for college football, which for a fleeting moment got to celebrate that crazy Rutgers touchdown via a series of unlikely and desperate laterals. It turned out, of course, that one of the laterals had been thrown forward, negating the whole sequence. And the touchdown probably wouldn’t have achieved much more than a backdoor cover. It was still quite something.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The secondary as a unit performed best, but it’s hard to overlook Penix. He accounted for four touchdowns, misfired on just one pass in the second half and, by the end of the game, looked like he was beginning to hit full stride. No player or coach lost more to the disrupted offseason than the time Penix and Sheridan didn’t get to spend building their rapport as quarterback and play caller. Allen did what he could to structure his preseason in a way that mitigated some of that, but it was never going to make up for all lost time. Some of that would have to happen in games, and we’ve seen the growing pains over the last two weeks. Saturday, we also saw the potential. Penix’s second half was outstanding.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.