Indiana football had a chance to open the season with a statement win over a traditional Big Ten powerhouse. Two weeks later, it could have knocked off a surging University of Cincinnati team in Bloomington. Against No. 4 Penn State on Saturday, Indiana had its third chance in five games to knock off a ranked opponent and prove 2020 wasn’t a fluke.
Instead, in a 24-0 loss to the Nittany Lions, the Hoosiers proved they will need a whole lot of luck to compete in any of their games the rest of the season.
“There are no excuses,” head coach Tom Allen said in a postgame press conference. “We’re going to look ourselves in the mirror, we’re gonna get back up and we’re going to fight. I can promise you that.”
Yet, Indiana showed little fight against Penn State. Indiana’s offense was outgained by 144 yards. The offensive line created no holes for graduate student running back Stephen Carr, who averaged 3.3 yards on 15 carries. Of his 50 rushing yards, 30 came on the last drive of the game.
The Hoosiers were shut out for the first time since Oct. 14, 2000, ending a streak of 246 games with a point. In 2021, Indiana has yet to score a touchdown against a Big Ten.
“We didn’t execute what we’re trying to do, the things that got called,” Allen said. “That’s all different phases. We’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play better.”
Indiana’s offense only penetrated the Penn State red zone twice. Late in the fourth quarter, Indiana failed to convert on fourth down, turning the ball over at the four-yard line. In the last drive of the third quarter, Indiana reached Penn State’s 13-yard line, but the field goal was blocked by Penn State junior linebacker Brandon Smith.
“You’ve got to score touchdowns to win on the road,” Allen said. “That’s the way I want to approach it, be aggressive. We're just trying to get points and get something positive to build off.”
The defense couldn’t stop Penn State even when it made the right plays, including allowing two touchdowns on fourth downs. On Penn State’s first touchdown, Indiana flushed senior quarterback Sean Clifford out of the pocket, but he was able to find a receiver in the end zone.
Beginning after Penn State’s second touchdown, Indiana prevented Penn State from scoring for five straight drives. Four ended in a punt and one was cut short by halftime. But Indiana’s offense produced even less, punting four times and throwing one interception over that time.
Instead of cutting into the Nittany Lions’ lead, the Hoosiers emerged from that defensive streak trailing 21-0.
“We knew coming into this game we needed to get the ball back to our offense and create more takeaways,” senior linebacker Cam Jones said. “We’re just going to keep doing that and let them figure things out.”
Junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. left the game with nearly 10 minutes left in the third quarter after sustaining a shoulder injury. His replacement, junior quarterback Jack Tuttle, threw three straight completions for 58 yards before the drive ended on the blocked field goal attempt, keeping Indiana scoreless.
Indiana sits 2-3 on the year. All three losses are to current top 10 teams, but the schedule doesn’t get much easier. Three of Indiana’s next four opponents are ranked, with the next coming after the team’s bye week Oct. 16 against No. 17 Michigan State.
“(The bye week) comes at a great time,” Jones said. “Guys can look themselves in the mirror and figure out how we’re going to go for the rest of the season.”