COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tom Allen sat in front of his postgame microphone following Indiana’s 49-26 loss to No. 3 Ohio State. He praised his valiant quarterback, Peyton Ramsey. He acknowledged not taking advantage of miscues by the Buckeyes. He slammed the table in a blend of passion and frustration, and walked out.
Saturday’s loss was a familiar defeat for those around this Indiana program. The Hoosiers battled, and they battled well. They held their own against an Ohio State team glued to its goal of a National Championship. This has also become a rather familiar defeat for Allen. He saw his team outplay a superior opponent at times, but not enough times. Allen was as animated as he has ever been, including on the game’s final drive — a drive ending with a Dwayne Haskins kneel to signal victory.
“My whole thing was we weren’t going to back down from anybody,” Allen said. “I didn’t want anybody feeling sorry for themselves. We were going to finish. We were going to look them in the eye, then shake their hands, make sure they know we respect them. But this program is working hard to be special. That ain’t gonna change.”
Each of these familiar losses are similar in outcome, but different in nature. Allen learned more about this Indiana team than he did last week in Piscataway. In Columbus, he learned that the IU offense can pose a threat vertically when its offensive line performs consistently. He learned that Indiana’s defense is explosive when it pressures the quarterback. And, above all, he learned again what the Hoosiers must do to end droughts such as their 31-year spell against Ohio State.
There was a window for the Hoosiers to take the lead at Ohio Stadium in the second half. Via an interception and a poor punt, Indiana started two drives inside the Ohio State 40-yard line late in the third quarter. On both drives, the Hoosiers were held scoreless — as kicker Logan Justus missed from 51 yards and punter Haydon Whitehead was called upon to pin the Buckeyes deep. Ramsey was 0-of-6 during those two drives, and the Buckeyes held their 35-26 lead.
“There is always a window in every game where you’ve got to put all of your energy right in there to make that game-changing play, when it can make a difference in the game,” Allen said. “And that was our window of opportunity. We just couldn’t take advantage of it.”
When he had a clean pocket, Haskins picked this Indiana defense apart. Ohio State did not punt until the third quarter, as Haskins finished 33-of-44 with 455 yards and six touchdowns. There were breakdowns, most notably a 71-yard score from Haskins to Parris Campbell to give Ohio State a 35-20 lead seconds into in the third quarter. When Haskins was pressured, he was intercepted twice — first to Devon Matthews, and then to Bryant Fitzgerald. Both were created by hitting Haskins as he threw.
“We knew that we had to pressure him to get him rattled,” linebacker Reakwon Jones said. “He’s a great quarterback who can throw, especially with a clean pocket. Our plan was to make sure we got pressure on him and when we did, it was very effective. And when we didn’t, you could tell. He had time to look downfield and off our defensive backs. It is what it is. We’re going to come back and figure out how to beat Iowa.”
On the other side of the ball, Indiana’s offense showed signs of life that had not appeared until Saturday. Nick Westbrook caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown — four of his receptions were over 15 yards. Indiana’s receivers won matchups against Ohio State’s secondary, and IU’s offensive line bought enough time for Ramsey to find them. Compared to uninspiring offense against Michigan State and at times, Rutgers, the Hoosiers proved that they can competently stretch the field.
Indiana once again abandoned the run early. Freshman Stevie Scott broke out a 45-yard run on the game’s opening drive, but received only nine total carries. Ramsey threw the most passes of his career, finishing 26-of-49 for a career-high 322 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was definitely out of game plan,” Westbrook said of going downfield. “We saw that opportunity going throughout the week. We knew they’re struggling in their secondary and that’s where we thought we could exploit them. That’s where we saw opportunities. We have a great receiving corps. It just works out perfectly because if you just throw it up to any of us, we’re going to make the play.”
For the better part of its loss to Ohio State, there are elements that Indiana can replicate next week against Iowa. The Hoosiers stretched the field. They created three takeaways. They remained intact for significantly longer than last season’s defeat to the Buckeyes. A new, more realistic challenge awaits in the Hawkeyes.
“I don’t think we backed down at all,” defensive tackle Nile Sykes said. “I think it’s just a matter of executing the calls when we’re supposed to execute calls. In long-distance situations like 3rd-and-10, we’re supposed to be off the field if we execute the calls correctly. There were plenty of times where we kind of beat ourselves.”