It’s been nearly three weeks since IU last took the field at Memorial Stadium. Three weeks since it allowed just one passing yard to a Rutgers offense trying to find footing under a new head coach.
In the weeks IU has been on the road, Tom Allen, Peyton Ramsey and a defense learning to adjust have flipped the script from what has always been the typical Hoosiers narrative.
That’s why they return in triumph, bowl-eligible before the calendar flipped to October.
Each week on the road has ended in a program-defining win. IU still doesn’t have a win over a team currently with a winning record, but that hasn’t mattered. It’s quite clear the direction the program has been heading.
When IU takes the field against Northwestern under the lights Saturday night, a celebration of what is already one of the most successful seasons in the program’s history, it will do so with momentum. For a program that has so often lacked it, the Hoosiers have built momentum, hope and a belief that this team is different than all the others before it.
Allen walked into the Indiana Memorial Union on Thursday morning, armed with free tickets, signed game balls and his loud raspy voice, foregoing a megaphone to yell above the dining hall and Starbucks din.
We need everybody!
— Coach Tom Allen (@CoachAllenIU) October 31, 2019
It was part of IU’s efforts to fill Memorial Stadium all the way up to the oft-empty corners. To “Pack the Rock” and show the hometown crowd the type of team Allen has built over an undefeated October. The type of team that begins to garner national attention as it makes its first appearance in the receiving votes section of the AP poll (though those votes were just Rece Davis of ESPN ranking IU 22nd) and its second week in the receiving votes section of the Coaches Poll.
The first November night game in Memorial Stadium history will be clear and cold. Northwestern arrives in Bloomington with a 1-6 record, though having faced a much more difficult schedule than Indiana.
— Allstate Sugar Bowl (@SugarBowlNola) October 31, 2019
Northwestern’s defense is the strength of the team, but it will face an Indiana offense that has been humming entering the weekend. It’s another week where the starting quarterback is unclear with Michael Penix a game-time decision, but Ramsey has been playing the best football of his career, and is a key reason why IU has the momentum it does.
Combine the numbers of Penix and Ramsey and IU’s quarterbacks would have the most passing yards in the Big Ten along with the third-most touchdown passes. They have a combined completion percentage of over 70.
Behind whichever quarterback starts is Stevie Scott, whose confidence is growing quickly. His production has followed suit.
The total offense is second-best group in the Big Ten, behind only Ohio State.
Though Northwestern is led by a stingy defense, IU’s unit has been the statistically better group this season. Northwestern has faced better offenses on a more consistent basis, but IU’s defense has shown signs of improvement with each game.
The adjustments that defensive coordinator Kane Wommack was able to make throughout the first half and halftime against both Maryland and Nebraska showcased what the young defense is capable of. In both games, the adjustments led to a strong defensive performance in the second half allowing IU to win games where the script of prior seasons would conclude with a loss.
Michael Penix practiced this week. Gametime decision. Nothing’s changed. #iufb
— Zach Osterman (@ZachOsterman) October 31, 2019
The Hoosiers are favored by 11 points per Bovada despite losing nine of the past 10 matchups against the Wildcats. With the program Allen has built, the expectations have shifted as IU is expected, handily, to win a conference game, a third conference game.
Six wins is no longer the expectation with Northwestern and a battered Purdue still on the schedule. With a night game on national TV, Allen will look to prove that to the rest of the country.
It’s not the same old Indiana.