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One Day Later: Long-awaited ‘breakthrough’ has Hoosiers bowling after emotional Nebraska win

Jamar Johnson, Allen Stallings, and the rest of the Indiana defense gather together during Saturday’s 38-31 win over the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. (Bailey Wright/HN)

LINCOLN — Senior defensive end Allen Stallings IV has dreamed of leading Indiana to a bowl game ever since his freshman season in 2016, the most recent year the Hoosiers were bowl-eligible. Since Stallings didn’t play much as a freshman, he knew this season was his last chance to make his dream come true.

Early on in the second quarter Saturday, Jamar Johnson forced a strip sack on Nebraska quarterback Noah Vedral deep in Indiana territory. Stallings recovered the fumble and took off towards the endzone like Indiana’s bowl eligibility hopes depended on it.

Nebraska quarterback Noah Vedral was able to chase down a huffing and puffing Stallings at the Nebraska 8-yard line.

“Man I was so gassed,” Stallings said. “I thought I forgot one of my lungs at the 50.”

Stallings may have been able to reach the endzone on the play if he picked up a block from Johnson, but at the end of the day, he was glad to help his team.

“I didn’t get mad at Jamar,” Stallings said. “I said a little something to him, but, you know, that’s alright. I forgot about it after.”

Feeling ‘pretty stinking good’

While Stallings was unable to break through for a touchdown on that play, Indiana head coach Tom Allen believes this 38-31 win is a breakthrough for the program.

“’Breakthrough’ has a lot of different layers and can have a lot of different meanings,” Allen said. “But this constitutes ‘breakthrough.’ I know I took some heat when I came out with that a few years ago, but I believed with my whole heart that we were going to break through year one.”

With a 6-2 record, Indiana has become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2016 and the first time under Allen, after two 5-7 seasons. For Allen, finishing strong and playing a 60-minute game feels good.

“I got really tired of standing in front of you all and talking about how close we are just trying to figure out how to spin it the right way when I am just torn up inside,” Allen said. “It feels pretty stinking good to be able to answer your questions after a big-time road win for the Hoosiers. I don’t care what anybody else thinks, this is awesome.”

Allen has used the word “grit” as the team’s motto this season. He says that in a division with a lot of good teams, it is important to unite the team.

“I knew I was going to catch heat for one word, but I really don’t care,” Allen said. “Those things unite us. They give us tremendous focus, give us purpose that we have to have as a team.”

In a hostile environment in front of 89,317 fans, no one exemplified grit more than redshirt junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey. Starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury, and after warmups, Allen decided to go with Ramsey.

Ramsey has received a lot of criticism in the past for a conservative style of play, as well as Indiana’s offense looking less exciting with him under center compared to Penix Jr. However, Ramsey looked poised all day long, with a stat line of 27-for-40 for 351 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also picked up a few key first downs with his legs, rushing nine times for 42 yards and one touchdown.

“What can I say?” Allen said. “[Ramsey] is an absolute stud. Tough, gritty, got some key first downs with his legs, took some shots. He just finds a way to win games and that’s who we are.”

Ramsey has been in and out as the Indiana quarterback this season with Penix Jr. dealing with multiple injuries throughout the year. With a certain level of uncertainty at quarterback for Indiana week to week, Ramsey knows he has to be ready to play each week.

“It was emotional,” Ramsey said. “A good week of prep and every single week you have to think you are going to be the guy. It was an awesome scene there in the locker room.”

‘Doing exactly what we need to be doing’

Ramsey’s favorite target on Saturday was junior receiver Whop Philyor, who finished the game with 14 catches for 178 yards. This game marked Philyor’s third 10-reception game, an IU single-season record. This was also Philyor’s third 100-yard game of the season, which ranks tied for eighth on the IU single-season list.

“It is so inspiring to watch [Philyor] play,” Ramsey said. “He’s a fun guy to throw the ball to because he gets yards after the catch. Just a fun guy to be a teammate with and I think a lot of us are truly inspired by him.”

Ramsey and Philyor worked together to convert multiple important third-down plays, as well. For Ramsey, he was just taking what the defense was giving him.

“I think there’s times when we try to dial it up and get it to one of our quicker, shiftier guys in a one on one matchup,” Ramsey said. “But sometimes it was just the look we were getting and I did my best to get [Philyor] the ball.”

Philyor believes this performance by the Hoosiers shows they can beat anyone right now. As someone who plays with a lot of energy, Philyor says he and the team were able to feed off of the environment inside Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium.

“We’re doing exactly what we need to be doing,” Philyor said. “I’m so proud of my team right now. I’m so happy. All wins are big, but this is probably the biggest one because this is a big stadium. Everyone is against us here. This is big because it got us bowl-eligible.”

Leaving history in the past

Allen also thinks this win will play a big role in recruiting going forward. He knows the history of Indiana football won’t get recruits to play for him, but wins like this will.

“Our history is what it is,” Allen said. “But that’s what we are selling to recruits and the bottom line is eventually you have to start doing it, and I get that. I was born at night, but not last night. The bottom line is you have to show evidence on the field that the breakthrough is actually coming and it’s going to happen.”

Indiana will look to build off this program-defining win next Saturday when Northwestern comes to Bloomington for a 7 p.m. kickoff. After a win like this, Allen demands that fans forget about frustration in the past and come support the team because of their fight and dedication.

“I haven’t been here very long, but all I know is what we are doing right now,” Allen said. “…These kids are going to play hard, ain’t going to play perfect, but they are going to play really hard for 60 minutes and we are going to find a way to stinkin’ win this football game. That’s what these kids do and that belief is just growing and growing.”

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My name is Jack Ankony and I am a sophomore from Mount Prospect, Illinois. I am a huge Chicago sports fan who loves to write and talk about sports.

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