WEST LAFAYETTE – Indiana freshman running back Sampson James felt like he was ready for his first career start Saturday against rival Purdue.
James, a four-star recruit from Avon, said he had a good week of practice and studied to make sure he knew his assignments in pass protection.
“I was prepared for every situation,” James said. “I definitely came into the game feeling comfortable and feeling like that I could do some damage.”
James did plenty of damage, rushing for 116 yards on 22 carries and one TD before leaving with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter of IU’s 44-41 double-overtime win over Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.
With IU starting running back Stevie Scott out with an undisclosed injury, James picked up the slack, demonstrating a blend of speed and physicality carrying the football. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound James sprung free for a 30-yard run on his second carry and drove through a handful of Purdue defenders for his 3-yard touchdown run. James appeared to be stopped by a wall of defenders but kept pushing the pile to cross the goal line on a run that put the Hoosiers up 21-10.
“I was definitely determined,” James said. “I actually had a couple of plays like that in high school. I knew that, like, just keep driving my feet and to really just keep driving and get in the end zone.”
The fact James rose to the opportunity didn’t surprise his teammates.
“We all knew that Sampson is a beast when he gets the ball,” IU quarterback Peyton Ramsey said. “He’s not afraid to lower his shoulder, and I think where he’s really learned is pass blocking, pass protection, receiving, just the little things true freshmen aren’t necessarily attuned to.”
James said despite getting few carries behind Scott, he spent his freshman season learning from him and his coaches in order to stay ready when his number was called.
“People can really lose faith and really lose hope of playing and stuff like that,” James said. “But I just kept practicing hard, just kept doing what I was doing in the weight room, and when my opportunity came, I took advantage.”
The win over Purdue not only secured Indiana’s first eight-win season since 1993, it increased Tom Allen’s bonus clause in his contract to $300,000. Per terms of Allen’s six-year contract, he earned $100,000 for his sixth win and an additional $100,000 for each additional win.
IU could secure just its third nine-win campaign in school history if it wins its bowl game. The last time Indiana won nine games was 1967, the year the Hoosiers went 9-2, won a share of the Big Ten title and represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, losing to USC.
“This team had high expectations for our season,” Allen said. “They expected to be in this position. Obviously, you have to earn it. It’s not easy, but that’s what they believe.”
Freshman cornerback Tiawan Mullen had a big day in his one-on-one matchup with Purdue freshman receiver David Bell. While Bell finished with nine catches for 136 yards and a touchdown, Mullen had four of Indiana’s eight pass breakups and finished with both a forced fumble and fumble recovery of Purdue sophomore running back Zander Horvath.
“You’re going to win some, and you are going to lose some,” Mullen said. “Always compete the next play. He made some great catches. I made some great plays. At the end of the day, we still won.”
Overall, it was another up-and-down day for Indiana’s secondary. While Indiana allowed Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell to pass for 408 yards, Indiana also was able to get a big pass breakup from sophomore cornerback Reese Taylor that helped force overtime. Sophomore defensive back Jamar Johnson recorded Indiana’s fifth interception of the season, picking off an O’Connell pass in the end zone on Purdue’s opening drive.
HALE, BEDFORD OUT
Scott wasn’t the only Indiana player to sit out the Bucket game. Freshman left tackle Matthew Bedford and senior wide receiver Donovan Hale also were out with injuries.
With Bedford out, redshirt freshman Caleb Jones moved to left tackle, with senior DaVondre Love starting at right tackle.
Hale’s injury opened up more playing time for redshirt freshman wide receiver Miles Marshall, who finished with four catches for 49 yards.