The game dragged on the same way senior tight end Ian Thomas dragged two Georgia Southern defenders into the end zone for IU’s fifth touchdown of the game.
Thomas’ touchdown came early in the third quarter and helped the Hoosiers ensure they’d keep the comfortable lead they held throughout the first half, but the last five yards of his run served as a metaphor for how IU had to fight through to finish Saturday.
After slogging through a horde of injuries, reviews, penalties and nearly four hours of game time at Memorial Stadium, IU (2-1) beat Georgia Southern (0-3) by a final score of 52-17 to win its second consecutive game.
The Hoosiers were in control throughout, but with the 90-degree temperature and a 30-point lead, it would’ve been easy for Coach Tom Allen’s team to ease up in the second half. Allen said he knew as much, and even though he said he thought IU finished strong, the final two quarters were full of nerves for the first-year head coach.
“I’ve got a headache right now because I was on edge the whole game,” Allen said. "I did not want us to ever let up. I know that’s a temptation. That’s what teams do.”
IU received contributions from two different quarterbacks, three different running backs and a multitude of receivers.
Senior quarterback Richard Lagow, who went down with a left leg injury on the very play that led to Thomas’ touchdown, had 130 yards through the air and a touchdown. He didn’t return after the touchdown pass to Thomas, but Allen said he would’ve been able to if the game was closer.
“I’m fine, no issues, it just was scary in the moment,” Lagow said. “It hurt, of course, at the time, but I was able to walk it off.”
A pair of other Hoosiers, sophomore husky Marcelino Ball and sophomore cornerback A’Shon Riggins, may have suffered more serious injuries. Allen said he wasn’t sure the significance of their injuries, but neither returned after getting hurt. The two starters had five tackles between them before going out.
The star of the day for IU was freshman running back Morgan Ellison, who got banged up as well but scored two first-half touchdowns to help the Hoosiers get out to a 31-0 lead early in the second quarter. He finished with 186 rushing yards, while sophomore running backs Cole Gest (45 total yards) and Devonte Williams (60 total yards and a touchdown) rounded out IU’s production from the backfield.
Facing Georgia Southern’s triple option offense, the IU defense was barraged with running plays throughout the afternoon. The Hoosiers managed to keep the ground game held in check for the most part by allowing 242 rushing yards on 54 carries. Ironically, the only Eagle touchdowns came on play-action passes that resulted in wide-open receivers downfield.
Senior linebacker Chris Covington, who tied for the team lead with six tackles, said discipline was key in limiting big running plays – Georgia Southern’s longest run was 21 yards – and forcing three fumbles.
“Make one mistake and they could pop one for a big one, so you’re just staying disciplined,” Covington said.
After Lagow went down with the injury in the first minute of the second half, freshman Peyton Ramsey handled things at quarterback for most of the final two quarters. Ramsey completed just three of eight passes, but found Williams for a 42-yard touchdown pass and added 22 yards of his own on the ground.
The score never got closer than 45-17 in the second half, and when sophomore cornerback Andre Brown Jr. stripped a Georgia Southern receiver and returned the ball for a touchdown in the closing minutes, Allen got the strong finish he wanted.
“We want to learn how to play at a high level and challenge them to have consistent performance,” Allen said. “That’s the key.”