COLUMBUS, Ohio – No. 9 Indiana entered Saturday intent on making a statement it could play with one of the top teams in the country at No. 3 Ohio State.
It looked bleak for the Hoosiers, trailing by 28 points early in the second half. But led by the duo of sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and senior receiver Ty Fryfogle, IU mounted a furious comeback.
Penix passed for a career-best 495 yards and five TDs and Fryfogle caught seven passes for 218 yards and three TDs, but the early deficit was too much to overcome as Ohio State escaped with a 42-35 win at Ohio Stadium.
IU had the ball down a touchdown at its own 38-yard line in the closing seconds, but a last-gasp hook-and-lateral play ended with Ohio State recovering a fumble, IU’s fourth turnover of the game.
For IU coach Tom Allen, the late rally showed the progress the Hoosiers (4-1) have made. The end result, though, still wasn’t satisfactory.
“There’s no question the gap has been closed,” Allen said. “We’re not there yet. They still have a lot of elite players that make it very challenging, but we’re working hard to continue to close that. It’s part of recruiting. It’s player development. Since I’ve been here, we’ve never had any fourth-quarter games with these guys. We’ve played them well at times, even up to halfway through the third quarter …
“There’s no consolation. We came here to win the game. Being close isn’t good enough, so we’ve just got to find a way to keep recruiting, keep developing and keep improving this football team so we can make those plays we’ve got to make to win games like this.”
IU looked every bit the 20.5-point underdog in the first half, falling behind 28-7 at halftime. The Hoosiers went down 35-7 when Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields connected with receiver Garrett Wilson on a 9-yard TD pass on OSU’s opening drive of the third quarter.
That’s when Penix and Fryfogle began IU’s comeback. Penix connected with Fryfogle on a 67-yard TD catch-and-run play, cutting the Ohio State lead to 35-14 with 10:48 left in the third quarter. Then Penix found Fryfogle on a 33-yard TD with 5:14 left to pull IU within 35-21, with Fryfogle chest-bumping OSU safety Marcus Hooker for good measure following the play.
“We just came out and got comfortable,” Penix said. “We just came out and just executed, just the simple things, just going out, playing hard. We played hard for each other. That’s what we talked about in the locker room going into halftime.”
Penix then made a critical mistake, a sideline pattern throw Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade picked off and returned 36 yards for a touchdown to put Ohio State back up 42-21. But Penix kept firing. He found sophomore David Ellis for a 16-yard TD pass to cap a 10-play, 75-yard TD drive to cut the Ohio State lead to 42-28 with 12:26 left. With 10:26 left, Penix and Fryfogle hooked up again for a 56-yard TD pass which Fryfogle wrestled away from Wade to cut IU’s deficit to 42-35.
After IU’s defense stopped Ohio State on fourth-and-1 from its own 7-yard line with 4:38 left, the Hoosiers had the first of their two chances to tie the score. But IU was forced to punt away when Penix was sacked at his own 13 with 3:10 left. Ohio State milked the clock down to 38 seconds left on its ensuing possession, giving IU not enough time to come back.
Fryfogle, who became the first receiver in Big Ten history to post back-to-back 200-yard games, said IU didn’t play consistent enough to pull off the win.
“We’ve got to find a way to put four quarters together,” said Fryfogle, who has posted 566 yards receiving over his last three games. “That’s when this football team will be really special.”
Fields passed for 300 yards and two TDs while rushing for 78 yards and another touchdown to lead the Buckeyes (4-0) to the win. But IU’s defense also forced Fields into three interceptions, putting a blow to his Heisman candidacy. Running back Master Teague III added a career-high 169 yards rushing and two TDs for Ohio State. OSU outgained IU 307 to minus-1 on the ground.
The matchup between top-10 teams began with a quick OSU score. After the Hoosiers punted away on their opening possession, Fields connected with Wilson on a 65-yard pass play down the middle of the field. Fields then found Wilson for a 10-yard touchdown pass. In just two plays spanning 33 seconds, Ohio State was up 7-0.
From there, though, IU’s defense stiffened in the first quarter and flustered Fields into mistakes. Jamar Johnson intercepted a Fields pass on Ohio State’s second possession, returning it 33 yards down to the OSU 44-yard line. Later in the first quarter, IU defensive lineman Jerome Johnson came up with his first career interception on a tipped ball as Fields was pressured.
With IU still trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, Penix made his first big throw, a 68-yard strike to receiver Miles Marshall down to Ohio State’s 4-yard line. Two plays later, Penix found receiver Whop Philyor for a 4-yard TD pass tying the score at 7.
That’s when Ohio State made its 21-point run, taking advantage of IU’s porous run defense. Teague capped a seven-play, 75-yard TD drive with a 41-yard touchdown run, putting the Buckeyes back up 14-7.
Then, after an Indiana three-and-out, Ohio State drove eight plays for 76 yards for another touchdown. The big play came when Fields eluded blitzing IU linebacker Micah McFadden and scrambled down 30 yards to the IU 2-yard line. Teague then scored on a 2-yard run, putting the Buckeyes up 21-7.
Indiana was poised to answer Ohio State’s score when Penix connected with Ellis for a 51-yard pass play down to the OSU 13. But Ellis was stripped on a crossing route by OSU linebacker Pete Werner, and the Buckeyes recovered at their own 7-yard line. Ohio State then went 93 yards on nine plays, with Fields scoring on a 9-yard TD on a scramble with 17 seconds left in the half to put the Buckeyes up 28-7.
Ohio State rushed for 196 yards in the first half, compared to minus-6 yards rushing for the Hoosiers.
“I was really concerned about our ability to run the ball against these guys, and it turned out to be true,” Allen said. “That’s something we have to make a major priority, got to get a whole lot better up front and do a better job to take some pressure off of our passing game.”