IU Coach Tom Allen is taking no consolation from his team’s strong start to Thursday night’s season opener against No. 2 Ohio State.
The Hoosiers faced the same fate against the Buckeyes as they have many times in recent seasons – a top-ranked team came to town, felt the pressure from IU for more than half the game and ultimately pulled away late for a deceiving blowout win.
Allen said he was proud of what IU showed it could do, as his team led for much of the first half and for brief spurts in the third quarter, but the first-year coach found himself dissatisfied and disappointed in the defensive lapses that allowed Ohio State to coast to a 49-21 win at Memorial Stadium.
“For two and a half quarters, we went toe-to-toe with them,” Allen said. “We’re leading them, and weren’t able to finish. So that’s on me.”
After holding strong on Ohio State’s opening drive and forcing the Buckeyes to kick a field goal early in the first quarter, the Hoosier defense locked down and became a catalyst in IU’s relative dominance throughout the first half.
Senior quarterback Richard Lagow quickly followed Ohio State’s field goal with a clinical drive of his own that ended with a touchdown pass to senior tight end Ian Thomas. It was far from the end of Lagow’s night. Throughout the game, whether IU led or trailed, the quarterback kept throwing.
Lagow threw so much, in fact, that he said he didn't even know how many times he threw the ball. The Texas native completed 40 passes while throwing for 410 yards and three touchdowns. When asked about the number of passes he attempted, which set an IU record, Lagow seemed surprised.
“Sixty-five times?” Lagow asked. “No. I didn’t realize we threw it that many times, honestly. Like I said, whatever it takes to win a game.”
Senior wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. became Lagow's most common target in the early going on Thursday. Cobbs had 97 of his 149 receiving yards in the first half and caught a second quarter touchdown that put IU ahead 14-6. The Hoosiers would score just one more time, but it again came thanks to Lagow's strong arm.
Ohio State cut IU's lead to 14-13 at halftime with help from a strong running game led by freshman J.K. Dobbins, who racked up 181 yards for the game. When the teams took the field for the second half, the Buckeyes seemed determined to continue the ground attack.
A one-dimensional IU offense that managed 17 rushing yards, after yards lost due to sacks were taken out, allowed the Buckeyes to make easy adjustments and stifle the Hoosiers for the first few drives of the third quarter. When senior quarterback J.T. Barrett took a two-yard keeper into the end zone midway through the third quarter, it looked like the floodgates were set to open for Ohio State.
But Lagow engineered one last scoring drive, and quickly took the Hoosiers 62 yards in two minutes before finding Thomas in the end zone yet again. A 21-20 IU lead with five minutes to go in the third quarter had the sellout crowd of 52,929 wondering if an upset was brewing.
From there, however, Allen felt his defense quickly lost its effort and energy. Ohio State needed just one play, a 74-yard touchdown pass from Barrett to junior Parris Campbell, to reclaim the lead for good.
“You make one mistake and it’s a big play, and they are so fast, it’s hard to catch them,” Allen said of the Buckeyes. “So we couldn’t afford to do that.”
Barrett threw another 59-yard touchdown before the third quarter ended, and the game was all but over. Barrett finished his day with 304 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Buckeye offense, which racked up 596 total yards in the game.
By the end of the game, Allen said he had enough of what he perceived to be a defense that lacked effort.
“That’s the kind of thing that, you know, you control,” Allen said. “Each young man controls that. So I’ll be very animated on things like that.”
The Hoosier defense had an inconsistent night, but Lagow was the steady bright spot. In a season that may come down to his ability to flash the leadership skills expected from a senior quarterback, Lagow, at least statistically, got off on the right foot. He said he’ll have plenty to build on for the rest of the year.
“This football team is going to win a lot of games,” Lagow said.