Indiana has beaten Michigan before, but Indiana has never demoralized Michigan like it did Saturday. The Hoosiers defense forced three-and-outs on Michigan’s first two possessions, and the Indiana offense played its most complete game with Michael Penix Jr. under center.
For cornerback Reese Taylor, this was cause for a celebration.
“As soon as we stepped foot in the locker room, it was a party,” Taylor said. “We just beat Michigan. I don’t know when the last time was we beat Michigan.”
With this 38-21 win, Indiana claimed its first win over the Wolverines since Oct. 24 of 1987. This marks Indiana’s second top-25 win of the season, and no matter how you look at it, the Hoosiers were dominant from the opening kickoff.
“I was determined we were finally going to get these guys,” head coach Tom Allen said. “It’s perseverance, grit, from everybody in this program.”
To open the game, Penix constantly exploited a weak Michigan secondary. In the first half alone, Penix completed 22 of 32 attempts for 234 yards and three touchdowns. It was clear offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan was targeting the Michigan defensive backs, and there was no reason not to.
While Penix didn’t have great performances in the team’s first two games, Allen said he had long seen the talent Penix showed Saturday.
“Once [Penix] got here, we began to realize this kid’s got some things to him that other kids don’t have,” Allen said.
But perhaps the most telling drive of the game came on Indiana’s final possession of the first half. Indiana started the drive with a run and a screen pass to Sampson James. Penix mixed in an 18-yard completion to Miles Marshall and a deep ball to Ty Fryfogle for 35 yards.
This was the first drive where Indiana was truly able to establish the run, after a 10-yard run from Stevie Scott put the Hoosiers in the red zone. Two more James and Scott runs got the Hoosiers close, and set up Sheridan for the perfect play call.
Penix hurried the Hoosiers to the line, faked the hand-off to Scott and found a wide-open Peyton Hendershot standing in the end zone. Indiana had shredded Michigan through the air so much early on that the Michigan defense wasn’t ready for a stronger running attack, and didn’t know how to react to play-action.
This touchdown put the Hoosiers up 24-7, and after a defensive stop, the Hoosiers had all of the momentum in the world going into halftime.
“That was just coach Sheridan making great calls,” Penix said. “We were reading the defense and he called what he felt fit, and it was working.”
Not only did the Indiana offense have its best, most complete performance of the season, but it made the necessary improvements in order to prove its legitimacy to the rest of the college football world.
Penix’s two favorite targets had big days, too. Fryfogle caught seven passes for 142 yards and a touchdown, and Whop Philyor hauled in 11 passes for 79 yards. The duo helped Indiana improve upon a big area of struggle for the Indiana offense this year.
In the first two games, Indiana converted on third down just 25 percent of the time, which was fifth-worst in college football and last in the Big Ten before today’s games.
Indiana bucked this trend by converting on five of eight third down tries in the first half and nine of 18 for the game. On the other side of the ball, Indiana’s defense was stout on third down, forcing Michigan to convert just three of 11 attempts.
This success on third down for the Hoosiers also allowed them to sustain long drives to wear down the Michigan defense. Indiana put together five drives of 10 plays or more, which not only ran out the clock, but kept a struggling Michigan defense on its heels all game long.
After mainly finding success through the air in the first half, Indiana was able to use the run game strategically by recognizing when the Michigan defense was tired. Scott finished the game with 24 carries, 97 yards and two touchdowns. Sampson James again made the most of his opportunity in a complementary role, rushing eight times for 25 yards.
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) November 7, 2020
A crucial loss for the Michigan run defense came on its first defensive possession of the game when potential first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Aidan Hutchinson came off limping. Hutchinson was later seen wearing a walking boot on the sidelines, and the injuries did not stop there.
Fellow NFL Draft hopeful Kwity Paye exited the game towards the end of the third quarter and did not return. Indiana took advantage of these obvious holes in the Michigan defense, resulting in a 118-13 rushing yard advantage.
After wins over former No. 8 Penn State and Rutgers, there were still questions surrounding how good this Indiana team could really be, and rightly so. Indiana’s offense largely underwhelmed versus Penn State, and most games against Rutgers have been expected wins since the Scarlet Knights joined the conference.
It ain’t an @IndianaFootball game til Jaylin Williams gets his pick. ?
He picks up his third in as many games, and it’s a huge one! pic.twitter.com/lCOCmijV12
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) November 7, 2020
But Saturday, Indiana put together a complete performance that put the rest of the Big Ten on notice. On Saturday in Bloomington, there were no asterisks for the opponent Indiana played or for how good the team really looked. Indiana proved it deserves respect in this conference and the entire country, as well.
And if the rest of the Big Ten doesn’t respect Indiana yet, the Hoosiers have enough confidence in themselves to go around.
“We should be No. 1 in the country in my eyes, just because of how hard we play, how fast we play,” Taylor said.