In some ways, Indiana football was the team of 2020. Head coach Tom Allen was featured in highlights on ESPN, junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s stretch for the pylon was all over College Football Playoff advertisements and the team continued to rise in the Associated Press’ weekly top 25 poll.
Indiana went 6-2 against a schedule made up of entirely Big Ten teams before falling in its bowl game against the University of Mississippi.
It beat No. 7 Penn State on a miracle play to open the year, beat Michigan for the first time since 1987 and took eventual National Championship runner-up No. 3 Ohio State to the wire as Penix laid waste to the Buckeyes’ secondary in Ohio Stadium.
Now, Indiana is 2-8 and 0-7 against conference foes. Even if Allen’s team wins out, he’s set for his fewest wins in a season in his 5-year career with Indiana, and the Hoosiers’ fewest amount of wins since at least 2014.
So, what happened? Was the 2020 season merely an aberration, a fluke? Let’s see what the stats say:
Indiana’s offense beat quality defenses in 2020
Pro Football Focus grades individual players and teams on a 1-100 scale in categories such as offense, defense, passing offense, tackling and more.
Of the six defenses Indiana faced in its successful games, three were ranked in the top-50 graded defenses nationally by PFF.
Even in Indiana’s sole regular season loss against Ohio State, the Hoosiers still managed to put up more points than any other offense the Buckeyes faced, save for the University of Alabama.
This includes the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff semifinal win over Clemson University, which was quarterbacked by future first-overall 2021 NFL Draft pick Trevor Lawrence.
Not only that, but Penix had a higher PFF passing grade against Ohio State than both Lawrence and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, who was also chosen in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Indiana also defeated Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium with its backup quarterback, then-sophomore Jack Tuttle.
Indiana’s offensive grade from PFF was 72.2, which ranked 76th overall nationally. Its three best offensive grades came against Rutgers, Michigan and Michigan State. Its worst grade was pass blocking, with Indiana only averaging a grade of 43 on the season.
Indiana didn’t face strong offenses in its wins
On the other side of the coin, Indiana’s defense wasn’t exactly pitted against high-powered offenses in its wins. Of its six wins, no teams had offenses in PFF’s top-50 nationally.
Ohio State and the University of Mississippi, Indiana’s two losses, were ranked fifth and 16th, respectively.
Indiana held opposing offenses to 20.25 points on average throughout the season. Combined, those offenses scored an average of 29.8 points across all of their games.
Indiana held two of its opponents, Wisconsin and Michigan State, to their lowest scoring output of their seasons. Two offenses, Maryland and Ole Miss, had their second worst scoring output of their seasons against the Hoosiers.
Of Indiana’s six wins, only one finished with a winning record. Wisconsin went 4-3 on the season following a win over Wake Forest University in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Indiana’s wins combined for a 17-26 record. The win over Wisconsin also doubles as Allen’s sole career win at Indiana over a Big Ten team which finished with a winning record.
Looking at the stats, 2020 wasn’t a fluke season. The Big Ten overall just had a down year, and the Hoosiers showed they could capitalize on that.
This season has been a leap backward full of injuries and mistakes, but program building typically takes more than just one or two seasons. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan or even Iowa weren’t built in a day.