Every once in a while, a pair of college football titans meet in a gladiatorial clash that completely ensnares the nation’s attention, riveting eyeballs to screens across the country.
On a totally unrelated note, Indiana football defeated the University of Idaho 56-14 Saturday night.
Playing Idaho, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, was a significant change of pace for Indiana after it was pummeled 34-6 in its season opener at No. 10 Iowa one week ago. As far as I’m aware, nobody who remotely cared about this game expected the Hoosiers to lose it. The question was whether they would shake off the rust of week one and obliterate the Vandals or if the brutal loss to the Hawkeyes was a grim omen of things to come.
In all honesty, it’s hard to say. Thus far, the sources of both Indiana’s failure and its success have felt random and not likely replicable.
For example, junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. performed much better than he did last week, but all he had to do to improve was not throw three interceptions and two pick-sixes. His 68-yard, two-touchdown outing against the Vandals isn’t going to land Penix on any Heisman ballots, but it’s frankly all the Hoosiers needed from him to win convincingly.
Likewise, the Hoosiers thrived on huge special teams plays, but it’s probably safe to say Indiana won’t be able to return a punt for a touchdown or block two punts on a consistent basis.
Of course, perhaps the biggest asterisk attached to these statistics is that they came against Idaho.
Let’s play a quick round of two truths, one lie — Idaho won its season opener against a Division II Canadian university, it did so while playing three different quarterbacks and one of those quarterbacks previously appeared exclusively on defense.
If you guessed the last statement was false, you’d be correct — that quarterback, junior Zach Borisch, actually played special teams before switching to quarterback in spring 2021. For what it’s worth, he is still listed as a running back on the Vandals’ depth chart.
That being said, don’t dismiss Idaho as a cake walk. Perhaps the two best throws of the night left the arm of Vandals graduate student quarterback Mike Beaudry on a pair of perfectly placed touchdown passes.
For those keeping score at home, the third best was probably the one an Indiana student known only as Chris tossed through a giant tire from five yards away during a commercial break to win $250 in tuition, about 0.02% of the $1.2 million Indiana paid Idaho to play in this game.
Penix’s showing likely would have been more impressive had his offensive line offered him more protection. The Hoosiers surrendered consecutive sacks on their first drive of the second quarter, a fairly concerning indictment for a team whose quarterback often seems one strong breeze away from a season-ending injury.
Nevertheless, graduate student running back Stephen Carr still picked up 118 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The ground attack was one of Indiana’s largest limiting factors in 2020, but it could prove pivotal to its success this year.
Although it was far from a flawless victory, the Hoosiers’ dominance served as a comforting reminder of what Indiana can accomplish when it isn’t actively sabotaging itself. By the time the third quarter drew to a close, the stands at Memorial Stadium had steadily transitioned from a sea of crimson to what resembled Hawaiian Punch splashed on a bargain brand paper towel.
I realize it is arguably my job as a columnist to make bold proclamations about the Hoosiers and their future prospects. However, I just don’t think you can interpret much from tonight’s game against an FCS school and last week’s game in which Indiana made itself look like an FCS school.
We know the Hoosiers’ true level of competence lies somewhere in between those two extremes, but that’s as useful as saying Emblem, Wyoming, is somewhere between the North and South Poles.
No matter your feelings about this game, one thing is for certain — Indiana picked up its first win of the season against a pretty mediocre Idaho team. If you’re searching for optimism, I suggest you italicize the first half of that sentence in your brain and not the second.