COLUMBUS, Ohio – Saturday, after one half of football, it looked as though Ohio State’s darkest day might have a sequel.
With 7:04 remaining in the half, redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey reared back and hit redshirt junior Nick Westbrook on a fade route in the back right corner of the end zone to put Indiana ahead 17-14 following the extra point.
For a few minutes, something felt different.
Following the Westbrook touchdown, Ohio State got scores from Paris Campbell and Terry McLaurin, the later by way of a controversial overturned fumble, to grant the Buckeyes a 28-17 lead.
But in a show of resiliency that has persistently lacked for the Hoosiers, Indiana responded with a 37-yard Logan Justus field goal to stay within eight.
“I’d say in the first half, we looked really good,” Ramsey said. “We were able to move the ball and score touchdowns, which was important.”
In true Indiana fashion, the second half featured missed opportunities, miscues, and ultimately another loss to one of the Big Ten’s elite. But for one half of football the Hoosiers legitimately went toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s best.
Head coach Tom Allen said postgame there’s no such thing as morale victories. For an Indiana team that’s historically a conference bottom feeder, there’s something to be said for pushing a team like the No. 3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Ramsey flashed the downfield ability that Allen and other coaches have preached existed, but nobody had seen until Saturday. The pass to Westbrook was a brilliantly placed ball that was completed despite pass interference by Ohio State corner Jeffrey Okudah.
One possession before that, Ramsey rolled to his left on a fake reverse, planted between the hashes and delivered a 32-yard floater to Peyton Hendershot for a touchdown. While the throw wasn’t stellar, Ramsey overshot a wide-open Westbrook two plays prior. Thus, his toss to Hendershot, a more concerted under-throw, demonstrated the kind of adjustments players must make to spring an upset.
“He just has a solid swagger to him where he knows he’s prepared for every situation so he knows exactly what he’s going to do,” Westbrook said of Ramsey. “It’s huge. Having that confidence in yourself makes it so much easier to play the game.”
Defensively, Indiana’s maligned defensive line offered a glimpse at its full capabilities. Though Ohio State racked up 351 yards in the first half, Indiana kept fabled tailback duo JK Dobbins and Mike Weber in check, giving up just 43 yards in the first quarter and 65 in the second.
Further, after being challenged by Allen to cause more turnovers this season, the Indiana defense caused two in the first half. The first, a fumble recovery by Cam Jones, came after Brandon Wilson ripped the ball from Weber’s grasp on the first Ohio State drive of the game.
The second turnover came when freshman defensive back Devon Matthews grabbed an interception after freshman husky Cam Jones clocked Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins as he threw.
Point being, the Buckeyes weren’t making mistakes. Indiana was forcing turnovers.
“Our goal coming in was we were going to fight these guys,” Allen said. “We were going to look them in the eye and fight for 60 minutes and not back down. So we just ran our stuff.”
Of course, Ohio State would win Saturday’s game 49-26, maintaining its undefeated season and moving them one step closer to the College Football Playoff.
That said, Indiana sought a darkest day encore in Columbus. It didn’t come. But their day reckoning is coming – Saturday’s first half showed why.