It’s been 27 years since IU football prepared for a game ranked No. 17 in the nation.
The team has fallen into the national spotlight this week after a stunning upset of then-No. 7 Penn State, their first victory over a top 10 team since 1987. And while IU head coach Tom Allen has been busy this week with interviews, he remains focused on Rutgers.
“We talk about 1-0, we talk about not blinking,” Allen said in his Monday press conference. “Those don’t just apply to negative situations. Those also apply to how you handle success.”
When IU takes the field Saturday, it will be coming off one of the best victories in program history, facing a Rutgers team it beat 35-0 last season. But Rutgers is coming off an emotional win as well, beating a heavily favored Michigan State team for its first Big Ten victory since 2017. Allen doesn’t want to overlook them.
Rutgers had one passing yard against IU in 2019. Even if the Hoosiers’ defense repeats its performance from last weekend, the Scarlet Knights’ air attack will be harder to stop this season.
Rutgers improved its offense with the hiring of offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson and brought in senior quarterback Noah Vedral, a transfer from Nebraska. In his first game, Vedral completed 18 of 29 pass attempts for 169 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s a kid that understands the game, a really good athlete,” Allen said. “We know we’re going to have to play extremely well to be able to contain him."
IU faced Vedral last season in Lincoln, Nebraska, in a game that clinched IU’s bowl eligibility. He completed 14 of 16 passes for 201 yards before leaving the game due to an injury shortly before halftime.
Part of the success Rutgers had on Saturday comes from the turnover margin. The Scarlet Knights forced seven turnovers, including two interceptions and five fumble recoveries.
IU will look to replicate its own defensive performance. Turnovers helped IU to a lead in the first half against Penn State when they turned two interceptions into 10 points and stopped a long Penn State drive into the red zone by forcing a fumble.
Junior safety Jamar Johnson was one of four Hoosiers with a career high in tackles, and he earned a Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week honor.
“We’re just keeping it together, making sure we stay motivated,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter how long we have to stay out there.”
There’s also questions on the offensive side of the ball that need to be answered.
Sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was the hero of IU’s overtime win, but it’s still to be seen whether the Hoosiers will see more of the Michael Penix who carried the team to victory for the next eight games or if they will see more of the inaccurate version that was around early on Saturday.
“Our execution was not at the level that we had seen in camp, and certainly not at the level we expect our guys to do,” offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said.
It was Penix’s first game in nearly a year, so rust may have been a factor. Allen said he was unable to get comfortable in the pocket through most of the game because the offensive line didn’t play well enough to keep the pressure off him.
“Our kids performed at their best level when it mattered the most,” Sheridan said.
Allen said the program has a lot to look forward to after the Penn State victory but doesn’t want it to be the only memorable moment.
“It’s a big, big win for sure,” Allen said. “But it’s only one win and this next week just gets bigger.”