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Historic firsts, 'best coach in America' and a sour ending: Indiana football's 2020 year in review

A year of program-firsts had a sour ending. The Hoosiers defeated Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin all in the same year for the first time in Indiana football history, but were unable to cap off the 2020 season in a positive way.

Indiana finished the season at 6-2 after a heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss in the 2021 Outback Bowl. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

After a 26-20 defeat at the hands of the Ole Miss Rebels, the Indiana football team approaches an offseason different from years in the past. Every senior has the option of returning for an additional year, which creates serious anticipation in the coming weeks awaiting the decisions of Ty Fryfogle, Whop Philyor, Jerome Johnson and Harry Crider, among others.

But before diving into what the upcoming offseason means for Indiana and what to expect out of the 2021 Hoosiers, let’s look back at the moments that made 2020 such a memorable year for Indiana football.

Most exciting moment

Due to a Big Ten-only schedule in 2020, the Hoosiers faced a tough opponent week one. The Penn State Nittany Lions arrived to Memorial Stadium on Oct. 24 as the No. 8 team in the country.

With 1:42 left in regulation, Penn State took a 28-20 lead, leaving Indiana fans to believe that it was another classic Indiana football loss due to late-game mishaps. But the Hoosiers would end up rallying late to send it to overtime where the most exciting moment of the 2020 season occurred. 

Michael Penix Jr. scrambled to his left, decided no one was open in the end zone and took matters into his own hands. Penix dived for the pylon, and after a lengthy review, it was ruled that the ball broke the plane just before touching the ground. Two-point conversion good, Hoosiers win.

It was a risky call by Allen to go for two instead of extending the game to a second overtime, but it ended up being the right call. While there may have been better wins on paper later in the year, as Penn State would get off to an 0-5 start, this win made Indiana fans truly start to believe. 

Kirkwood Avenue was packed with students celebrating the win, social media showed multiple couches being burnt in Bloomington and Hoosier Nation was all-in on Indiana football starting that night in late October. 

Most disappointing moment

It ended in a 27-11 Indiana victory, but the win came at the cost of Indiana losing its best player. Michael Penix Jr. tore his ACL for the second time in his college career after scrambling for a first down against Maryland on Nov. 28.

Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan stayed away from designed quarterback runs for the majority of the season, but it only took one play to throw that out the window. Penix was developing into one of the conference’s best quarterbacks and put the college football world on notice with his near-comeback performance versus Ohio State, throwing for 491 yards and five touchdowns.

Indiana leaned on the strength of its defense all year, but it was clear that the Hoosiers’ ceiling was significantly lowered without the electrifying Penix under center. Allen said Penix should be ready for the start of the 2021 season, but this injury leaves a lot of questions as to what could have been for the Hoosiers in 2020 with a healthy starting quarterback for the whole year. 

Best win

In Indiana’s first game without Penix, the Hoosiers didn’t skip a beat. After the Outback Bowl loss, we realized there was a much bigger difference in the skill level of Penix compared to Jack Tuttle, but for now, Indiana fans were satisfied.

The Hoosiers traveled to Madison, Wisconsin on Dec. 5 to take on a Badger team with one of the Big Ten’s best defenses. It was a classic grind-it-out Big Ten football game, and by the strength of its defense and timely throws by Tuttle, Indiana escaped with a 14-6 victory

The College Football Playoff committee tried to hold the fact that Penix was out as a reason to rank the Hoosiers lower, but Indiana’s best win of the 2020 season actually came without Penix. It might not have been the prettiest performance, but it’s still true.

Tuttle completed 13 of 22 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns, and the Indiana defense forced two turnovers. This game also created the memorable moment where the Indiana players ran to the tunnel hugging, jumping on each other and yelling about how much they love Allen as he gave his postgame interview. 

Worst loss

This one’s pretty easy. The Outback Bowl loss to Ole Miss. Indiana’s only other loss this year was a seven-point loss at Ohio State, but that doesn’t diminish the impact of Indiana’s embarrassing performance at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 2.

The Hoosiers nearly came back from a 20-6 deficit after having a chance to take the lead in the final seconds of the game, but this was largely a poor performance from Indiana. Ole Miss was without its top three receivers and leading rusher, but the Rebels still got what they wanted in this game.

Matt Corral completed 30 of 44 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns as Kane Wommack’s defense was flustered by the up-tempo style of play and the heat and humidity of Tampa, Florida. Indiana’s defense sat back in soft coverage for most of the game and was never the aggressor. 

The Hoosiers failed to forced at least two turnovers for the first time all season, and the offense didn’t perform any better. Tuttle was playing through a separated shoulder for most of the game, and finished with 19 incomplete passes, 201 yards and an interception.

Indiana’s 20-point output marked the least amount of points scored on one of the worst defenses in college football all year. Ole Miss came into the game last in nearly every defensive statistical category in the SEC, but played its best game of the year on that side of the ball.

Best offensive play

Ohio State has yet another possible first-round pick in the secondary in Shaun Wade, but Ty Fryfogle burned him for Indiana’s best play of the season. Wade was even called for pass interference on this play, as Fryfogle leaped to catch the ball and ran an additional 30 yards after the catch for a touchdown.

This play cut Ohio State’s lead to 42-35, but also showed off the incredible ability of Fryfogle. Fryfogle was named to the All-American third-team, largely due to his performance against Ohio State that gave him national recognition.

Fryfogle finished this game with seven catches for 218 yards and three touchdowns. He also became the first Big Ten receiver to ever record back-to-back 200 yard receiving games. Fryfogle has an impactful decision to make, as he could choose to return to Indiana for a fifth season, or take advantage of his NFL draft stock rising exponentially this season. 

Best defensive play

The best play on the other side of the ball comes from Fryfogle’s fellow All-American Tiawan Mullen. While Mullen wasn’t named to any of the AP All-American teams, he earned first-team All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America.

Mullen finished the year with three interceptions, but his best play came by forcing a turnover in a different way. Against Wisconsin, Mullen blitzed off the edge and delivered a hit that Micah McFadden said sounded like a gunshot.

Mullen hit Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz square in the stomach, popping out the ball. The Hoosiers would recover the fumble and score on the ensuing offensive possession to take a 14-3 lead in the third quarter. 

Not only did this play show off Mullen’s speed and hard-hitting ability, it also came at a crucial moment in the game. Wisconsin was driving with a chance to take the lead, and Mullen flipped the field and gave his offense a chance to put Wisconsin in a hole.

The Best of Tom Allen

I originally looked through Tom Allen’s pressers trying to find his best quote of the year, but he just has too many. Whether it be a fired-up Allen after a big win, heartfelt Allen, storyteller Allen or Tom Allen "the ultimate leader," it was a good bet he would say something memorable at each press conference.

So instead of highlighting the best Allen quote of the year, here are the top five Allen quotes from 2020 in no specific order.  

This was one of Allen’s more edgy, "take that!" type of answers, and in this press conference he told it like it is. Just ask any opposing quarterback if they liked facing the Indiana secondary this year. 

Allen was visibly distraught after a close loss to Ohio State, but used this game to talk about the building blocks of his program. Indiana may have lost to Ohio State, but this game provided many learning lessons and proved Indiana could compete with top teams in the country. 

Allen’s son Thomas suffered a season-ending hip injury versus Michigan State. It was clear how many teammates loved Thomas, as they hugged him, gave him a high-five and wished him well as he was carted off. Allen was emotional at the press conference on Monday following that game. 

Allen got a bit too excited celebrating a play with Devon "Monster" Matthews during Indiana’s win over Michigan, leaving a scar on his cheek. But this wasn’t the first time he injured himself celebrating with his team.

One of Allen’s best qualities is without a doubt his leadership. While he may have been doubted along the way, he still carries a chip on his shoulder as the head coach of Indiana.

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