In 1989, former University of Louisville football head coach Howard Schellenberger said, “The University of Louisville is on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time."
No, I am not writing that IU football will win a national title. On Saturday afternoon No. 24 IU lost to No. 9 Penn State, 34-27.
Like the dozens of other near misses that have defined the Hoosiers’ football program, there were defining moments that show this was a typical defeat.
However, after almost every “IU football” moment when it looked like Penn State was going to break the game open, IU broke tradition and didn’t fold. Instead, the Hoosiers fought adversity head on.
Junior receiver Whop Philyor muffed a punt after the IU defense forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game. The Nittany Lions capitalized with a quick touchdown, and IU was reminded of the last time they played in Happy Valley.
In that game, Saquon Barkley returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. IU didn’t recover from the opening punch until they were down 28-0 just 15 minutes into the game. But unlike the 2017 game, the Hoosiers responded with a six-play, 75-yard statement touchdown drive to tie the contest.
Later, an embarrassingly bad missed targeting call resulted in another Philyor fumble that also knocked the star receiver out of the game. The Hoosiers’ defense stepped up and forced a three and out after the fumble, and kept the Nittany Lions' lead at one possession while the offense adjusted to life without Philyor the rest of the first half.
And then of course there was the even more humiliating excuse of a fake punt.
“Our true freshman long snapper that made a mistake,” head coach Tom Allen said postgame.
Whether the fake punt was executed correctly or not, it still cost the Hoosiers. Penn State turned the fake punt fiasco into a quick touchdown to take a lead late in the third quarter.
Instead of packing their bags back to Bloomington, the Hoosiers responded again. The IU offense had three drives after the fake punt. The results were field goal, touchdown and field goal. The Hoosiers made the No. 9 Nittany Lions sweat until a final onside kick was recovered with just 13 seconds left in the game.
Even before kickoff, IU knew it would have to overcome the loss of redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The Hoosiers were used to playing without Penix, as he has been sidelined for multiple games with other ailments prior to the season ending injury. But there were still outside worries about replacing the star Hoosier quarterback.
Enter junior Peyton Ramsey. Ramsey has struggled against elite defenses in the past, including earlier this season against Ohio State. But aided by a brilliant game plan from offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and surrounded by tons of playmakers, Ramsey played the best game of his career.
The Cincinnati native threw for 371 yards with a 75.6 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of 91.3. Ramsey was accurate on short and intermediate throws, rarely made a bad read and even hit a few deep balls.
The 2019 offense will never be as good as it was with Penix behind center. But Ramsey has proved that he has developed from a game manager who won’t lose IU games to a quarterback who is capable of beating the best in the Big Ten.
The IU offense is not just legit, it is arguably the best offense in the conference other than Ohio State.
Behind that strong offense and a youthful defense that has a knack for improving as games progress, this IU football team is a force. Even with a loss on Saturday, Tom Allen’s team proved a changed program.
To paraphrase the old Schellenberger quote, IU football will break through. The only variable is time.
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