Kevin Wilson didn’t want to harp on the past futility — nearly two decades’ worth of losing — Indiana football squads had endured at the hands of Penn State teams.
But after Indiana finally got in the win column against Penn State with a 44-24 win at Memorial Field on Saturday, all of that sour history was out in the open — and off the current players’ backs.
It ended 16 straight losses in which Hoosiers were outscored 601-333 or beaten by an average of 17 points each time if that’s easier to swallow. Six losses — two of them routs — came at Memorial Stadium with two more on neutral fields. Twice the Hoosiers were homecoming punching bags for the Nittany Lions. Finally, the Hoosiers swung back.
“Coach talked to us this week ... about even though we have never beaten Penn State in Indiana history, we can’t hype up this game any more than it needs to be,” safety Greg Heban said. “After the game we were really excited about the win but we weren’t super shocked about it. We knew we were a good team.”
Penn State (3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) knew all about the Hoosiers (3-2, 1-0) and the realistic threats they would present on the field. It didn’t matter. Penn State couldn’t stop the Big Ten’s most vaunted offense.
True freshman Nate Sudfeld completed 23 of 38 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns. He tossed scoring passes to Isaiah Roundtree and Kofi Hughes — the first gave Indiana a lead and the second, a 36-yard strike to Hughes, put them up 35-17 and proved to be the dagger with just over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
“When it got to 35-17, I felt like we were in trouble there,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said.
But, trouble was brewing from the start.
The Hoosiers entered the game leading the conference in total yards but had also given up the most rushing yards per game. When the smoke cleared — literally, from the fireworks that exploded into an overcast sky following each Indiana score — the Hoosiers left Memorial Field having hung up 486 yards against a Nittany Lion defense. They celebrated a sturdy defensive effort, having held Penn State’s powerful three-pronged running attack to just 70 yards on 38 carries.
Backup quarterback Tre Roberson added two rushing touchdowns and Mitch Ewald booted two field goals for the Hoosiers. Defensive end Nick Mangieri forced a fumble in the end zone late in the fourth quarter that resulted in a safety after Penn State recovered it.
Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions were left grasping for answers and eager to get back to Happy Valley where Michigan will enter Beaver Stadium next weekend.
“It hurts,” senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. “It definitely hurts big but if you look at last year we started our season out 0-2 and came back and had a pretty successful year. That’s just the type of guys we have on our team and I’m sure we’re going to bounce back from this.”
They’ll need to perform better in all phases.
“It starts with me,” O’Brien said. “I have to do a much better job of coaching; putting these guys in better positions to make plays on both sides of the ball and special teams. We have a bunch of resilient kids in that room. We didn’t play well, didn’t coach well and we have a long way to go but we’ll get back to work on Monday.”
First, there will be a mourning period as players have Sunday off. They’ll have plenty to lament over.
The Nittany Lions couldn’t turn momentum after their own scores. The Penn State defense gave up three scoring drives that resulted in 17 Indiana points following their own scoring drives.
Penn State turned the ball over on downs four times with one of those coming on a botched field goal try in the first quarter. A bad snap got away from holder Alex Butterworth resulting in a loss of 31 yards as Sam Ficken had to chase the ball down and fall on it. Ficken had a kick blocked late in the first half.
Wide receiver Eugene Lewis was stripped of the football on a kick return in the fourth quarter and Indiana recovered at Penn State’s 9. Roberson high-stepped his way into the end zone on the next play.
Although it ran 93 plays, the Penn State offense couldn’t keep pace with Indiana’s on an afternoon where both units combined for 173 snaps.
True freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg was outdueled by fellow rookie Sudfeld who completed throws to seven different targets and did most of his work on the run. Hackenberg completed 30 of his school record 55 passing attempts for 340 yards and three touchdowns but was stymied by the Indiana defense late.
A throw from his own 33-yard line on fourth-and-two was batted down at the line when Penn State trailed 28-17 early in the fourth and he was sacked in his end zone with just under six minutes to play.
“I think we ran over 90 plays today which is good,” Hackenberg said. “I wouldn’t say that it hurt us or helped us but our tempo I felt was decent today. I can get better but it was decent.”
Penn State got a superb effort from junior wide receiver Allen Robinson who caught 12 passes for 173 yards with two touchdowns to pace the Nittany Lions. Bill Belton added a touchdown catch midway through the fourth quarter and Ficken booted a 30-yard field goal. Zach Zwinak led Penn State with 72 rushing yards on 17 carries.