Brendan Sorsby took three steps back, looked left and fired over the middle.
The spiral pass was caught by redshirt freshman receiver Omar Cooper Jr., who scampered into the endzone for a 26-yard touchdown, trimming Indiana football’s fourth quarter deficit to 24-21 on the road against No. 10 Penn State.
The Hoosiers’ redshirt freshman quarterback walked to the sideline grimacing, left hand holding right shoulder while his teammates celebrated. The play prior, Sorsby used that shoulder to absorb a hit from Nittany Lions senior cornerback Johnny Dixon, gaining an additional six yards and picking up a first down.
This two-play stretch revived Indiana’s hopes of pulling off one of the biggest upsets in IU football history. It also finalized Sorsby’s candidacy to be the Hoosiers’ quarterback for the foreseeable future.
“I said, ‘I’m going, I’m in pain, but shoot, we’ve got a game to go win,” Sorsby said postgame. “I was going back out there.”
Indiana’s upset bid ultimately fell short Saturday, as Penn State (7-1) scored a 57-yard touchdown with under two minutes to play and sent the Hoosiers (2-6) home with a 33-24 defeat inside Beaver Stadium. But the Hoosiers will depart Happy Valley knowing they have a quarterback built for the spotlight.
A disastrous 13-second stretch late in the fourth quarter in which Penn State scored a touchdown and safety after Sorsby fumbled on a sack marked the end of Indiana’s hopes, but the overall performance reinvigorated Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen’s confidence not only in his team, but his signal caller.
“He’s a got a lot of toughness to him,” Allen said postgame on IU radio. “He’s young and getting better every week.”
Sorsby finished the afternoon 13-of-19 for a career-high 269 yards and three touchdowns, with scores of 90- and 69-yards to redshirt senior DeQuece Carter and junior Donaven McCulley joining Cooper with a 26-yard catch.
Those were the highs. There were also several lows, including the game-ending sack-fumble, an ill-advised cross-body interception late in the first half and a pair of missed completions on third down to McCulley and sophomore running back Jaylin Lucas in the first quarter.
The Hoosiers outgained the Nittany Lions 359 to 342 in total yards despite running 21 fewer plays. Sorsby outdueled Penn State quarterback Drew Allar, who passed for 210 yards while also tossing three touchdowns and his first interception of the season.
Indiana proved a lot Saturday: it’s talented enough to contend for wins against top-10 teams, the locker room hasn’t given up on this season, Sorsby has traits to build around and this largely inexperienced squad isn’t quite ready to finish out close games on the road.
None of this removes the pain from the Hoosiers’ near-colossal upset, which would’ve marked their first victory in Happy Valley and first win on the road against an AP top-10 team since taking down Ohio State in 1987.
“Didn’t finish, just hate that,” Allen said. “Gosh, this hurts.”
Indiana has now lost four consecutive games and will have to win its next four to make a bowl game for the first time since 2020.
In a soul-snatching loss, the Hoosiers should take solace in Sorsby – but it prompts a deeper question for Allen and staff: why did it take until Week 9 to identify Sorsby as the long-term answer?
The simple answer is malpractice in handling the quarterback competition between Sorsby and fellow redshirt freshman Tayven Jackson. A close battle through fall practice led Allen to split playing time between both passers in the first two weeks.
Indiana settled on Jackson after a strong showing against inferior Football Championship Subdivision foe Indiana State and was rewarded with its decision the next week as Jackson threw for 299 yards in a loss against the University of Louisville.
There were few questions then, but as Jackson struggled over the next two weeks and the Hoosiers alternated between quarterbacks in a 52-7 blowout loss to Michigan on Oct. 14, the method behind Allen’s choice became shaky.
Sorsby, if only slightly, outperformed Jackson against the Wolverines, and started the week after against Rutgers. He provided spurts of encouraging play, including a 35-yard score to Cooper Jr., but also looked the part of an inexperienced player.
It’s important to remember Sorsby’s played only seven games. Saturday marked just his third start.
He’s young, but teammates and coaches respect his toughness and he proved against the Nittany Lions he can play at a high level when the lights are bright.
The Hoosiers know Sorsby has what it takes to win – and Allen and staff need to live with the growing pains and put their trust in him, because he’s shown the talent and toughness needed to bring brighter days to Bloomington.