If you’ve ever been congested with a head cold and blown a particularly impressive snot rocket, you’d know what it was like witnessing IU move downfield against Michigan. To any offenses struggling to establish consistency, I highly suggest scheduling a game versus the Wolverines.
After being held to 211 yards by Penn State and taking almost thirty minutes to find breathing room at Rutgers, IU’s offense played its first great opening quarter of the season.
Sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. picked at the depleted Wolverine secondary like an old scab all afternoon, netting 342 yards and three scores on 30 completions. I don’t love seeing Penix throw 50 passes, but I also probably wouldn’t have enjoyed watching junior running back Stevie Scott III rush for a yard and a half 20 times either.
The Hoosiers’ offensive line was underwhelming in the contest’s first half, and Scott was forced to catch swing passes where there were no lineman to blow a blocking assignment.
However, IU’s big men were frequent benefactors of crucial false start penalties. Penix repeatedly displayed his mastery of the pre-snap cadence, clapping harder than an overzealous dad at his son’s junior varsity tennis match, drawing the Wolverines offsides five times in the first half.
Discipline was the greatest advantage the Hoosiers appeared to pose over the Wolverines.
Aside from junior cornerback Jamar Johnson’s first quarter fisticuffs with Michigan’s Ronnie Bell that led to his ejection, IU looked like a much more controlled unit. Even the entirety of the Wolverine sideline managed to earn a warning from the referees.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan discovered how difficult it is to overcome a skilled defense on the road, especially when your offensive line only has a combined eight starts.
Three sacks, two turnovers and constant harassment of quarterback Joe Milton once again made me confront the bizarre reality that IU might have one of the Big Ten’s premiere defenses.
Admittedly, the officials were very generous to the home team, but they weren’t nearly as altruistic as Michigan itself. A pair of wince-inducing drops in the second half kept the Wolverines in a double-digit deficit when they were desperate for momentum.
Meanwhile, Milton might as well have mailed defensive coordinator Kane Wommack a flow chart of his passing scheme, tossing two interceptions directly to junior cornerbacks Jaylin Williams and Devon Matthews on consecutive drives. Milton had a messy outing, and the hungry Hoosier defense was quick to feast on a sloppy joe.
With a 17-point lead, IU’s run game finally found its footing and Scott churned his legs for 50 yards in the fourth quarter. Of the many compliments heaped on Scott during Fox Sports 1’s broadcast, by far the best was commentator Joe Davis calling the tailback “230 and jacked,” truly the highest praise a collegiate male can receive. Scott used every ounce of muscle to drain the clock and offer a rest to Penix, who I was sure by then was on the precipice of developing pitcher’s elbow.
Through three weeks of Big Ten football, the clear dominant powers in the East are Ohio State and back-breaking mistakes.
The Hoosiers may wind up being no match for the Buckeyes, but today they proved they are good enough to defeat unforced errors.
In a division where Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers, Penn State and Maryland have all fallen prey to easily avoidable missteps, IU just has to keep its head screwed on straight to be a top-flight contender.