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After his first career Big Ten double-double, Jordan Geronimo trudged up to the media podium. Exhausted, he was looking down at his sweat soaked crimson and cream shoes. Mike Woodson turned towards the junior forward as he exited the media room.
Jalen Hood-Schifino was pushing early in the first half. Racing down the court the 19-year-old tried to pass over the top of multiple defenders to teammate Race Thompson only for the ball to careen out of bounds. Soon he missed an open layup and forced a ball over the top again that pinballed off multiple hands.
The shot clock was running out and Trey Galloway needed to create something.
Colby Knerr arrived at Assembly Hall with a sleeping bag, folding chair and enough food for two meals. It was 7 p.m. Thursday. Hoosier Hysteria tipped off in 24 hours.
In the later stages of the second half Sunday, Indiana was threatening to make a run at Michigan. After a defensive stop, IU guard Xavier Johnson received a pass in the backcourt. Michigan's Moussa Diabate sprinted out of nowhere to poke the ball loose. DeVante Jones jumped on top of Johnson to cradle the ball. Jump ball, Michigan ball. Any hope of a late IU run was squandered.
It was representative of one team that was desperate to win and the other still drinking in the spirits of what appeared to be a program-altering victory on Thursday over No. 4 Purdue.
On Sunday afternoon in Assembly Hall, Michigan -- which was 8-7 coming into Sunday's game -- won all the loose balls, hit the tough contested shots that IU routinely missed, and stayed remarkably poised in front of a rowdy 17,222 fans. Michigan 80, Indiana 62. It was the first time in 13 tries an opponent had left Assembly Hall this season victorious.
After McCade Brown had been perfect into the seventh. After he had made one mistake. And that one mistake had seemingly ruined everything. The epitome of Indiana baseball’s late season surge stepped to the plate — Collin Hopkins.
He was the Hoosiers’ last gasp with two outs in the ninth to Rutgers. Brown had carried a perfecto into the seventh only to give up a solo home run. IU had been unable to score all afternoon.
But Hopkins would not let IU go quietly. Not after he had raised his batting average from below .100 to almost .250. Not after he had gone six straight games with at least one hit. Not when IU needed the redshirt senior catcher to come through to maintain the team's winning streak and tenuous hold on first place in the Big Ten.
Hopkins sent a 1-0 pitch looping into center field. One big plop on the damp outfield grass long enough for Grant Richardson to score from second. Tie game. 1-1.
IU junior left-fielder Drew Ashley joins the HN baseball crew to talk his experience as IU's leadoff hitter, playing for his home state team and his career plans outside of baseball.
Plus the guys discuss the Hoosiers' challenging final stretch of the season starting with a major test this weekend in Bloomington against a streaking Iowa Hawkeyes team. For more IU Baseball coverage follow @TheHoosierNet on Twitter.
Indiana ace Tommy Sommer did not have his best stuff. The lefty was working around trouble with traffic on the bases nearly every inning in Friday's start against Minnesota. Walks, hits, Golden Gopher baserunner after baserunner.
In the middle of it all IU redshirt senior catcher Collin Hopkins met Sommer halfway between the plate and the mound. He put his arm around the junior pitcher and whispered something in his ear. Sommer calmed down and got out of the inning and eventually his outing without serious damage.
It was a familiar sight this year. Hopkins, the college baseball journeyman, counseling young Hoosier flamethrowers. And the mentoring is proving successful by the numbers. Entering this weekend IU leads the Big Ten and ranks in the top five nationally in fewest hits allowed per nine innings, ERA and WHIP.
On Friday, Hopkins helped IU cruise to a doubleheader sweep over Minnesota as the Hoosiers moved to 17-8 on the year. They sit in third place in the Big Ten, two games behind first-place Nebraska. Hopkins' impact has been pronounced all season long.
“There are a couple guys that you ever coach that care more about the group success than their personal success,” IU head coach Jeff Mercer said. “That’s what Collin is.”
The reason he cares starts with his journey as a player. Hopkins grew up in a pro athlete family. His dad Brad played 13 years as a left tackle for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans NFL franchise. His older brother Brycen was a tight end with Purdue and is now in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams.
But at the age of 12, Collin choose baseball and specifically catcher because his role would be to “tell people what to do,” as Hopkins puts it. Ever since then, Hopkins has spent his time on the diamond trying to fulfill that catcher role.
“My role as the catcher on the team is to be the anchor on the team physically and emotionally,” Hopkins said. “I’m not somebody that is just going to start screaming at people but just listen and understand."
But Hopkins' baseball journey did not always go according to plan. He decided to stay in his home state of Tennessee to start his college career at Volunteer State Community College. There, Hopkins says he was not taking care of his body properly. This resulted in an upper body injury his sophomore season. He could not throw. He could not catch for a month. As he didn't play for a lengthy portion of the season, most Division 1 recruiters missed Hopkins. He eventually found a home at Western Kentucky.
He didn’t fit in Bowling Green, and he looked to transfer again. Mercer talked to Hopkins' high school coach who told Mercer that Hopkins was the best kid on and off the diamond he had ever coached. A strong game in the summer collegiate Northwoods League with Mercer watching and Hopkins was headed to Bloomington.
This journey has tested Hopkins but he has benefited in the long run. Once a struggling catcher, he is the everyday starter for one of the best teams in the Big Ten. He has the experience to understand nearly everyone in the Hoosier clubhouse.
“He can relate to everyone,” Mercer said. “He’s like a chameleon. He can go to every part of the group and be relatable.”
That includes on and off the diamond. He’s the pick-me-up for the Hoosier pitchers. On Friday it was Sommer who needed the support and some wise words.
“That’s something I really admire in those guys, being able to work with them during the game instead of just them being up there in their own headspace,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins impact continued in game two of Friday’s doubleheader where he helped John Modugno earn the victory in his first Big Ten start. Hopkins spent the game working with IU pitching coach Justin Parker to make pitch calls. An IFB in Hopkins’ ear lets Parker communicate with his catcher. But normally Hopkins makes the final decision on the pitch call.
“He’s really like a coach,” Mercer said. “He does a lot of communication strategically to call a really good game.”
The one thing Hopkins typically does not do? Hit.
He is hitting .122 on the year with six hits. But they’ve been timely. He has two home runs. His first against Purdue gave IU much-needed insurance to win the rubber match of the rivalry series. And his second might be the most memorable moment of IU’s season — a ninth-inning, walk-off homer against Illinois to break a five-game Hoosier losing streak. And Friday was Hopkins' best day with the bat yet, reaching base five times including two doubles in the second game.
Whether or not his bat comes through, Hopkins is on the field for his leadership behind the plate and for being the savvy veteran leader to guide the pitchers. Hopkins’ mentality and beliefs are in accord with Mercer every step of the way.
“[The coaches] always preach how it is a process and journey to see how good we can be,” Hopkins said. “So we want to be the best version of ourselves and I think that’s a wonderful message to preach to young adults. I think that has really helped guide me to who I am today.”
Indiana plays Minnesota for a third and final time on Sunday. Then the team embarks in the hardest closing schedule of anyone in the Big Ten, playing all five of the other six top teams in the conference standings.
The Hoosiers might get in trouble. They might not always have their best stuff in their quest to repeat as Big Ten champions. But in the clubhouse and behind the plate, IU baseball will always have its anchor.
Griffin, William and Zak are joined by the voice of Indiana Baseball Austin Render to help make sense of a disastrous weekend for the Hoosiers in Columbus.
The guys discuss the causes of Indiana being swept by Ohio State, Jeff Mercer's theory on his team getting caught playing emotional baseball and how the Hoosiers can turn their game around starting with this weekend's series against Illinois. For more, follow @TheHoosierNet on Twitter.
In the season's first episode, the HN baseball crew of Griffin, William and Zak breakdown IU's 11-3 start as they head into a 4-game series with Ohio State.
Along with analysis of the teams pitching and hitting so far the question is asked, what will it take for IU to continue their early dominance and win the Big Ten? For more, follow @TheHoosierNet on Twitter.
“We are excited and ready to go,” Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer said a few days before the Hoosiers' opening day. “I don’t know if we are ready to play.”
That rust was apparent at times for Indiana, which looked excited if not overeager on the diamond. The Hoosiers opened their season Friday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis with a doubleheader against Rutgers and Minnesota.
Game one starting pitcher Gabe Bierman’s accuracy struggles and the team's cold bats led to a 2-1 defeat. Bierman walked five and hit a batter in four innings while the Hoosiers were held to five hits.
Indiana bounced back big time against Minnesota in game two playing with more tempered excitement for a 5-2 victory. Indiana's two out hitting and pitcher Tommy Sommer's dominant day highlighted the victory. The Hoosiers' first six hits, all in the first four innings, came with two outs.
Here's what we learned from Indiana’s first day of baseball of the 2021 season.
Hoosiers' impatience leads to Rutgers loss
IU looked overeager at the plate for much of Friday’s game against Rutgers. The Hoosiers struck out 13 times. IU chased pitches out of the zone throughout plate appearances and never looked comfortable against Scarlet Knights ace Harry Rutkowski.
The Hoosiers did not have much better luck against the Scarlet Knights' bullpen. IU’s struggles were most acute in the game’s closing innings. Over the last five innings IU recorded just three base runners while striking out 10 times. Mercer also had to be frustrated with IU only having two walks.
As the Friday matinee game progressed, the Hoosiers looked increasingly frustrated and impatient with quick at-bats. The game lasted less than two and a half hours. Indiana’s rush at the plate might be in part to not playing a live game as a team for nearly a year. But the impatience never put any pressure on Rutgers’ pitching as Indiana had almost no quality offensive opportunities.
Modugno's coming-out party
In Friday’s opening game Hoosier second-year freshman John Modugno entered in the fifth inning after Bierman’s uneven four-inning performance. Modungo pitched in just one appearance last year — three innings giving up five runs. He was a different player against Rutgers.
The Upper Saddle River, New Jersey native shut down his home-state team pitching a perfect last four innings. Modungo did not necessarily overpower Rutgers, with only four strikeouts. Instead the righty peppered the Knights with a collection of off-speed and pinpoint accuracy. He had no walks.
Rutgers looked off balance with early swings leading to routine ground outs and pop outs. This lead to remarkable efficiency. He needed just 35 pitches over the four innings. Playing a doubleheader with four games in three days, Modungo allowed Mercer to only use two pitchers in game one preserving the rest of the bullpen.
Tommy Sommer dominates Minnesota
After a first-inning-ending strikeout, IU pitcher Tommy Sommer screamed and gave a fist pump. In the Hoosiers' second game of the season, the junior southpaw never lost that fire.
Sommer pitched eight innings of efficient scoreless baseball. He struck out 10 Gophers. His pitching high in the zone was effective as well. Minnesota batters frequently got under balls as they flew out nine times.
Indiana baseball’s 2020 season was abruptly cut short last March. Nearly a year since the Cream and Crimson last took the diamond, the Hoosiers start their 2021 season on Friday.
IU will play a 44-game, Big Ten-only schedule starting with two games apiece against Rutgers and Minnesota this weekend indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. There will be no Big Ten Tournament, meaning the automatic NCAA tournament bid will be awarded to the regular-season conference champion. The Hoosiers have the hitting experience and pitching talent to defend their 2019 Big Ten title.
The Hoosiers' Hitters: Experience At The Top, Questions In the Back
IU returns two of its three core top-of-the-lineup hitters in outfielder Grant Richardson and infielder Cole Barr. Outfielder Elijah Dunham signed with the New York Yankees last year forgoing the rest of his eligibility.
Richardson is expected to be the heart of the Hoosier lineup. The Fishers High School grad was named a first team preseason All-American this year by Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game. Richardson can hit for contact and power. He led IU with five home runs and a .424 batting average in 14 games in 2020.
Barr is expected to be one of the Hoosiers' leaders.
“He has been terrific in his lifestyle, the weight room, his physical development, his emotional stability in a really tumultuous time,” Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said. “He has just become a young man.”
The junior should be a reliable bat in the middle of the lineup. Scouts will be watching as well, he was drafted in the 37th round by the Seattle Mariners in 2019.
Indiana also will return outfielder Drew Ashley and DH Jordan Fucci. Both upperclassmen had above .400 on base percentage in 2020.
The Hoosiers have numerous holes behind the top of the lineup. Indiana struggled at times in 2020 for timely hitting from their back-half hitters. The Hoosiers may look to some freshman for production. Infielder Paul Toetz, who sat out 2020 with an injury, is a name to watch.
“He’s a really competitive, intense kid,” Mercer said. “Has a great offensive feel, a strong-handed kid.”
The Hoosiers' Pitchers: Young Firepower and Depth Abounds
IU’s biggest strength is the front end of its rotation.
Gabe Bierman and Tommy Sommer will be the two reliable weekend Hoosier starters. Jeffersonville, Indiana, native Bierman enters his third season in Bloomington and his second as the IU ace. In 22 innings in 2020 he led the Hoosiers' starters with a 2.45 ERA. He is a tough-minded kid who has already faced serious adversity in his life.
Sommer is the Hoosiers’ leader on the mound.
“He’s a worker and he’s a professional,” Mercer said. “He can communicate and he is articulate. He has his opinions grounded and based on his own research he has done.”
The fourth-year southpaw had a 2.61 ERA in four 2020 starts.
Mercer has multiple tantalizing pitching options after Bierman and Sommer. Braydon Tucker had the most impressive win of the 2020 season, scattering four hits, no walks and just one run over six innings in front of over 10,000 fans at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge against No. 11 LSU.
Mercer will go with two less experienced arms for opening weekend in Minneapolis. McCade Brown, a third-year righty, has pitched a total 6 ⅔ innings in two years in Bloomington due to injuries and the shortened 2020 season.
“I’ve got complete confidence in Mac,” Mercer said of Brown. “He feels really good about himself you can see it in his body language.”
Brown’s confidence took off last summer in the Kernels Collegiate League in his hometown of Normal, Illinois, where he posted an 0.93 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 22 ⅔ innings.
Another inexperienced pitcher Ty Bothwell will make his first career start this weekend for IU. The lefty has a lively fastball and is described as a talented athlete by Mercer with a lethal pickoff throw.
“He’s whipped our hitters' butts a lot this year," Mercer said. "I think he’s going to be great.”
The depth at the starter position should allow some of the talented arms to come out of the bullpen. Braden Scott and Connor Manous are bullpen veterans who will see plenty action from the pen.
Mercer has an ideal scenario with his pitchers — firepower at the top and enough depth to trust numerous arms in key moments throughout the season.
The Hoosiers' Schedule: Backloaded Big Ten Only Schedule Presents Unique Challenges
Indiana looks to have an easy schedule early in Big Ten play. Four of its first five opponents are projected to finish in the bottom half of the conference based on D1 Baseball’s preseason rankings.
Minnesota, 2018 Big Ten champion, is the lone team in the top half of the projected standings. The Hoosiers cannot afford many losses early because of the backloaded schedule. Eight of IU’s final 11 games are against Michigan, Maryland and Ohio State — all teams in contention for the Big Ten title. A three-game weekend series in Ann Arbor May 14-16 between Indiana and Michigan could decide the Big Ten crown.
The Hoosiers' biggest scheduling problem will be playing in the mediocre Big Ten without having nonconference wins to add to their resume. The Big Ten has not proven to place many teams per year in the NCAA tournament. No Big Ten team is currently ranked in D1Baseball.com's top 25. If the Hoosiers do not repeat as Big Ten champions there may be some nerves in Bloomington on Memorial Day weekend as IU awaits its postseason fate.
But Mercer is not focused on two months from now. And neither is his team after nearly a year off the diamond.
"I think if you put us on the surface of the moon right now, they'd find a way to go play," Mercer said.
TAMPA — The 2020 Indiana football season was one of the best in the Hoosiers' despondent football history. But the old demons of past IU football failures returned Saturday at the Outback Bowl. Four their fourth bowl game in a row, the Hoosiers lost by a single possession. Here's what we learned from No. 11 IU's 26-20 loss to Ole Miss.
Indiana's defense crumples
The Hoosiers defense bailed out its offense throughout this season. On Saturday, Kane Wommack's group played its worst game of the season. Ole Miss playing without its top three receivers and starting running back torched IU's defense for 493 yards.
Wommack had done a masterful job with his gameplan all season long. Was Wommack distracted with his new head coaching job at South Alabama? We'll never know, but he never found answers to slow the Rebel's up-tempo offense.
The Hoosiers looked off balance and tired most of the day. The up-tempo also prevented IU from frequent substitutions — a constant this season for the IU defense. This dramatically affected the defensive tackles — all four Hoosier starters went down with injuries over the course of the game. And IU never could generate much pressure against Rebels quarterback Matt Corral.
The four-week layoff also affected the Hoosiers. Facing an up-tempo offense, IU looked rusty with missed tackles throughout the defense. COVID-19 may have also been a factor. The virus can have lingering affects on the body and health. Over 25 Hoosiers tested positive for COVID-19 over the past month. This might have caused more conditioning problems for IU. Tom Allen also mentioned the Tampa Bay heat — upper 70's and 80% humidity — as a detrimental factor for IU.
Hoosiers ignore the run game too long
IU scored three points in the first half — the lowest total of the season. All year long, IU has neglected to run the football. The Hoosiers finally relied on the ground game in the second half, leading to their two touchdown drives, but it was too little too late.
IU quarterback Jack Tuttle played much of the game with a separated shoulder.
"I thought he was a warrior today but he was pretty dinged up," Allen said.
Yet IU neglected to run the ball against the worst rushing defense in the SEC. Throughout much of Saturday, IU offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan was obsessed with Whop Philyor screen passes and crossing routes. The senior wide receiver set an Outback Bowl and IU record with 18 catches. However, Philyor only averaged 4.5 yards per catch for 81 yards.
Sheridan's play calling has been up and down all season. But on Saturday against one the worst statistical Power Five defenses, the Hoosiers never developed a rhythm until late in the third quarter. The Hoosiers likely would have won if they had prioritized the running game earlier in the Outback Bowl.
Another heartbreaking bowl loss does not diminish a historic season
IU continued its struggles in bowl games. Last year, a breakthrough season for Allen concluded with a disastrous fourth quarter and loss in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. Saturday, three hours south in Tampa, a slow start put the Hoosiers too far behind to pull out a victory.
The loss leaves a sour taste in to a memorable season. Saturday was not a reflection of a memorable historic season for IU. The Hoosiers have already proved themselves as a top team in the Big Ten. In Tampa that team never showed up.
IU finishes the season 6-2. Hoosiers fans would have taken that record in September in a heartbeat. IU proved it could beat top-10 teams, snapped the longest losing streak in the country against Michigan and returned to a big-time Florida bowl game. Most of IU's roster will return.
The 2021 season has potential for more history. But the year 1991, the last time IU won a bowl game, is still on the minds of long-suffering Hoosiers fans. That history will have wait at least one more season.
TAMPA — A historic season ends for No. 7 Indiana on Saturday. The Hoosiers will be the highest ranked team in the AP poll to ever play in the Outback Bowl. IU will face 4-5 Ole Miss. Here’s three key questions as the Hoosiers face the Rebels Saturday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.
How will the Ole Miss offense handle injuries and opt-outs?
Ole Miss has an elite offense. The Rebels have scored at least 30 points in all but two of their nine SEC games this season. Lane Kiffin’s offense is third in the country with 562 yards per game. But IU will face a different-looking Rebels offense on Saturday.
Ole Miss is without its leading wide receiver Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah. Both opted out of the last month of the season to prepare for the NFL draft. Their third leading receiver Braylon Sanders was hurt in the Rebels regular-season finale against LSU and will be a game-time decision. Those three account for two-thirds of Ole Miss' receiving yards so far this season.
The run game situation is also uncertain for the Rebels. Lead back Jerrion Ealy is dealing with an ankle injury from the LSU game. Ealy, who averages over 80 rushing yards per game, will likely not be 100% even if he plays.
With depleted weapons it’s hard to foresee the look of Lane Kiffin’s offense on Saturday. IU’s defense is putting all its focus on Rebels quarterback Matt Corral.
Corral is a highly touted redshirt sophomore who was part of the 2017 Elite 11 quarterback class with Jack Tuttle. He has fit perfectly into Lane Kiffin's explosive offense.
“He’s the guy that makes it all go,” IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said. Most concerning for IU are Corral’s legs. Corral will run on designed zone reads and also extend broken plays with his feet. He is averaging 52 yards per game rushing on the season. One of the IU defense's biggest weaknesses this season has been slowing down mobile quarterbacks such as Sean Clifford and Justin Fields.
Ole Miss’ offense is depleted. But Lane Kiffin is one of the most offensively creative coaches in the country. With a playmaker at quarterback the Rebels still have the ability to put up points in bunches. New Rebels in the spotlight will warrant different play designs and will likely lead to some surprising wrinkles. IU’s defense has not blinked all season. Saturday will provide a new challenge.
Will a month-long layoff affect Indiana?
IU last played four Saturdays ago on Dec. 5 in Madison. Since then IU has dealt with at least 28 COVID-19 positives and spent nearly two weeks of the past month without a full team practice.
After seven straight weeks of Big Ten play and a month break the Hoosiers will now play one final game. Rust may play a factor for IU, especially early, in the Outback Bowl. And IU has not started fast this season. Meanwhile, Ole Miss will have had just two weeks off since their regular season finale against LSU.
Conditioning could be another concern for IU especially in the closing stretches of a tight game against an up-tempo Ole Miss offense. While we may never know which IU players dealt with COVID-19, there will likely be Hoosiers playing on the field at Raymond James Stadium who had to quarantine for over a week — unable to practice or train during that time. COVID-19 effects on the body’s health are also a concern as multiple athletes nationwide since March have reported lingering health effects long after testing positive.
Hoosiers players have talked in press conferences about their extensive work with IU strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman and their diligence on the practice field over the past week. However, Tom Allen admitted a real football game can not be simulated. IU’s rust, time off and conditioning worries are one of IU’s biggest concerns heading into Saturday’s game.
How does motivation factor into the game?
Motivation is always a question in non-championship bowl games. After this most unusual season where players and coaches were unable to see their families or go anywhere outside of the football facility, a lack of motivation is even more of a concern. It was evident Wednesday night when an opted-out and uninterested Florida team laid an egg in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma.
In the Outback Bowl, the onus would seem to be on the SEC team as well to have a lack of motivation.
"We're recruiting our own players to play in a bowl game that they've never played in,” Kiffin said. “It is what it is."
What it could be is a depleted Ole Miss roster with backups uninterested in playing in one final game after a mentally and physically taxing season. On the other hand, Kiffin may be able to motivate the Rebs to take the field Saturday to make a statement against a top-10 team.
IU will likely not have an issue with motivation. The Hoosiers have had no opt-outs all season and after being snubbed for a New Year’s Six bowl are motivated to make a statement. Tom Allen’s word of the week was “finish.”
The best IU season in 50 years will only be so sweet with a concluding victory. Will Ole Miss show up eager to play in Tampa with the Hoosiers? That may decide if the Outback Bowl is a barnburner or a blowout.
Our Hoosier Network team will have game day updates from Tampa all weekend. Follow them on Twitter @ankony_jack, @grifgonzo and @epstein_griffin along with The Hoosier Network handle, @TheHoosierNet, for all the coverage you need from Raymond James Stadium. The Outback Bowl kicks off Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on ABC.
Penn State was luck. Michigan was the Wolverines' ineptitude. A near 28-point comeback against No. 3 Ohio State that fell one drive short was an aberration. And Michael Penix’s injury would cripple the team.
That was all before the first College Football Playoff rankings were a week old. During the best Indiana football season in 50 years, national disrespect has emerged as a common theme. On Sunday, a one-loss Big Ten team was left out of a New Year's Six game. The No. 7 team in the nation, according to the AP poll, was then passed up by the Citrus Bowl and will now play a 4-5 Ole Miss team in Tampa Bay's Outback Bowl.
Always optimistic, IU head Tom Allen sees the slight as just one more obstacle thrown at the Hoosiers.
“I just feel with my whole heart this is the next opportunity for this program to prove who we are,” Allen said. “To stare adversity in the face and just fight, fight, fight for each other.”
The opponent is not at Indiana’s level based on record and the bowl game is likely at a lower echelon than deserved. But the Outback Bowl is a chance for Indiana to continue making history.
For starters, the game offers Indiana a valuable recruiting opportunity. The Hoosiers will play their second straight bowl game in Florida, a state that Allen has made the center of his recruiting.
Allen also has plenty of ties to Tampa. His head coaching career started at Temple Heights Christian High School in Tampa Bay where similar to Indiana he turned around a long struggling program. Allen would later return to Tampa to be the defensive coordinator at South Florida (USF) the year before he left for Bloomington.
The return to Tampa will also be a return home for many Hoosiers including Whop Philyor, Juwan Burgess and Penix. Their families and friends will be able to visit them and watch them play in-person. For the first time all season IU will play in front of the public. Raymond James Stadium will have 20% capacity, meaning a little over 13,000 fans permitted.
“I'm so excited our fans get to come to this game,” Allen said. “I hope they come in droves and support this team like they never have before.”
Lastly, the opponent will offer some unique competitive challenges. Ole Miss, in its first year under Lane Kiffin, has been one of the most entertaining teams in the country. Led by talented quarterback Matt Corral and wide receiver Elijah Moore, the Rebels are averaging 562 yards and 41 points a game. They will be a stiff challenge for Kane Wommack in his final game as IU defensive coordinator.
The Rebels defense? The reason Ole Miss has a losing record in the SEC. Five of the Rebels nine opponents have scored at least 40 points.
No matter how Ole Miss plays on Jan. 2 a win would be historic for IU. The Hoosiers have lost five straight bowl games dating back to the 1991 victory over Baylor in the Copper Bowl in Arizona. The Outback Bowl is a chance for the Hoosiers to excoriate another demon of their horrid football history.
No. 12 Indiana stifled No. 16 Wisconsin in Madison. The 14-6 victory was a Hoosier statement. Here's what we learned Saturday.
Jack Tuttle is more than an adequate replacement
There was much talk throughout the week of what Michael Penix's replacement could do against a top defense. On Saturday, Jack Tuttle proved to be poised, smart and even capable of big-league throws. The redshirt sophomore making his first career start looked confident over the course of the game. Wisconsin consistently brought pressure but Tuttle stayed in the pocket and made bullet throws knowing he would take some big hits. He even showed an effective ability to quarterback sneak.
Tuttle made his most spectacular throws in the second half, most memorably a beautiful fade to Whop Philyor for the Hoosiers' second touchdown. And Tuttle showed fight. After taking a big hit by Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn he went to the locker room. But after being being cleared, he came sprinting out of the tunnel just in time for the next drive.
In a Big Ten-style defensive game, IU never needed Tuttle to be a superhero. But Tuttle proved with his confidence under duress and a pretty ball he can be more than a game manager going forward.
Kane Wommack is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country
Every week the IU defense gets better and better. Wisconsin had 342 yards on Saturday. The Badgers never scored a touchdown.
Wommack has designed a defense that never breaks. A defense that forces turnovers, key stops and has a remarkable ability to bow their ears back and stifle teams when needed. And when IU's offense did not always help, the Hoosier defense was up to the task. The Badgers offense was on the field for more than 10 minutes longer than the Hoosiers. But Wommack's troops never looked tired.
Wommack has a uncanny ability to game plan and put his experienced players "in the best position to execute," as he frequently says. It sounds like coach speak at a Monday press conference but it has worked all season on Saturdays. A Tiawan Mullen sack and strip was a prime example of a brilliantly designed blitz. The turnover led to Indiana's lone touchdown in the first half.
And importantly, Wommack has the players to execute his goals. Mullen and fellow cornerbacks Jaylin Williams and Reese Taylor all made key plays in Madison. Micah McFadden continues to be a perfect leader and playmaker of the defense. And an experienced d-line limited a potent Wisconsin rushing attack.
Indiana needed a great performance from its defense on Saturday to win. A suffocating performance against a physical top 20 team proved the Hoosiers have the best defense in the Big Ten. It will be a big loss in Bloomington but Kane Wommack deserves a Power Five head coaching job.
LEO is real
Miles Marshall early fourth quarter drop will be on all the highlight shows. Jack Tuttle's third quarter fumble on a quarterback sneak spoiled a possibly game-sealing drive. They were reminders of the pain and struggle that IU football has been through against ranked teams over nearly its entire history. But it did not matter on Saturday in Madison. Why?
The ABC postgame interview was evidence. Tom Allen was constantly interrupted by numerous players hugging and telling the world Allen is the "best coach in the country."
Indiana has always found a way to lose throughout its sad football history. They were supposed to lose again on Saturday. The Hoosiers were two touchdown underdogs in Madison. On ESPN's College Gameday almost all the analysts were in agreement that the Badgers would win comfortably. And Indiana just lost its star quarterback.
But Tom Allen's LEO mantra brought IU's players cohesion and an unshakeable belief in their teammates and victory. In Indiana's best win of the season, Tom Allen and the Hoosiers proved that in a dark world, loving each other can still win.
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On an emergency rapid reaction podcast Jack Ankony and Griffin Epstein react to Michael Penix Jr.'s season ending injury. They discuss what the injury means for the Hooisers going forward and what to expect from IU's new starting quarterback Jack Tuttle.
Indiana football vanquished Maryland 27-11 in Bloomington. No. 12 Indiana improves to 5-1 on the season.
Key takeaways from the Hoosiers' win over Maryland:
Michael Penix Injured
The first two seasons of Michael Penix's Hoosier career were both cut short early by injury. A primary reason for IU's breakout season has been his ability to stay on the field. However, on a quarterback designed run Penix was tripped up going out of bounds. His right leg crumpled awkwardly and he fell to the ground. He was taken to the locker room and not seen again.
It may be just a ankle tweak or it could be the third straight year Penix is out for the season. Jack Tuttle played well in replacement of Penix, but it is hard to imagine that he can play at Penix's highest level, seen in Columbus last Saturday. The Hoosiers will face challenging defenses of Wisconsin and likely Iowa or Northwestern and an SEC team in a bowl game. Strong quarterback play will be needed.
Hoosiers' offense inconsistency continues
Indiana's offense has started slow in nearly every game this season. But not as badly as it did against Maryland. Penix went from torching Ohio State for 491 yards too looking like the backup JV quarterback at Bloomington South. He had just one completion for positive yardage in the first half. And finished 6-for-19 for 84 yards before exiting in the third quarter with the leg injury.
He did not get much help. The Hoosier offensive line gave him little time and continues to be the team's biggest weakness. There were no wide receiver drops but the receiving corps never seemed in rhythm with their quarterback. Ty Fryfogle had just two catches for 10 yards after averaging 209 yards over the last two games.
And IU's run game was inconsistent, especially in the first half. Indiana was stuffed frequently against the worst rush defense statically in the Big Ten. The improved second-half ground game was a big reason the Hoosiers pulled away for a victory.
Indiana's offense did improve over the course of the game. They have yet to find a recipe for a full four quarters of strong play.
Hoosier defense bends but does not break
Indiana's defense continued its great play. They gave up some yards to Maryland and Tualia Tagovailoa in the first half. However, as Indiana's defense has done all season, they forced turnovers and limited damage. In the first half the Terps got inside the Indiana 30-yard line four times. They only had three points.
Excellent pass pressure was key to another dominant performance, neutralizing Tagovailoa's strong arm as he was constantly under duress. IU had three sacks and six tackles for loss. The pressure helped lead to three interceptions again for the IU defense. The Hoosiers lead the country with an astounding 16 interceptions through six games.
Indiana's offense has been a rollercoaster ride. But defensive coordinator Kane Wommack has built a consistent monster of an Indiana defense. They have given up just 11 total points in the past eight quarters vs. non-Ohio State teams. And Saturday was against the second-best team in the Big Ten in terms of total offensive yards.
Overall, the Hoosiers leave with more concerns than when they woke up on Saturday. An injured starting quarterback and an inconsistent offense are chief worries going forward. However, the Hoosiers are 5-1. They are one win away from clinching second place in the Big Ten East. That is something for the Hoosiers to be proud of when they go to sleep on Saturday.
Indiana football fell to Ohio State in Columbus 42-35. No. 9 Indiana falls to 4-1 on the season.
Key takeaways from the Hoosiers loss:
Mistakes foil Hoosiers again
IU had dodged costly penalties and poor execution at times against weaker competition in their first four games. Turnovers were costly in this one. A David Ellis fumble in the red zone at the end of the second quarter changed the game. IU likely would have brought it to 21-14. Instead the fumble resulted in a clinical Buckeye drive and touchdown that made it 28-7. With IU outsourcing OSU 28-7 to close the game, Hoosier fans are again left thinking what could have been.
Drops were costly as well. Ty Fryfogle dropped a would-be fourth-down conversion in Ohio State territory in the first quarter. David Ellis dropped a ball that would be a big play at the end of the third quarter. The next play was a Michael Penix pick six. That was the only Buckeye score after the 12-minute mark of the third quarter.
IU’s defense also continued to force turnovers with three interceptions. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields had three interceptions. He had a career three interceptions coming into Saturday’s game. However, IU after 17 points off turnovers last week had no points off turnovers Saturday. Most costly was a Jamar Johnson fumble on an interception return.
Michael Penix has career game
The redshirt sophomore quarterback showed why he is one of the best in the Big Ten and arguably in the country. Frequently under duress, he made poised throws including a few spectacular ones to Ty Fryfogle. Statically he throughly outplayed one of the Heisman favorites in Fields.
He threw for a career-high 491 yards and shredded an Ohio State secondary with some talented albeit young playmakers. Saturday was just Penix's second loss as a starter. His play had to make Hoosier fans excited for the rest of the season.
Hoosiers outclassed in trenches
Indiana’s rush defense was third best in the Big Ten coming into Saturday’s game. Buckeyes running back Master Teague had a field day with a career-high 169 yards. With Justin Fields surprisingly struggling in the first half OSU adjusted by running it down the throat of the Hoosier defense. IU never had a good answer.
The Hoosier offensive line was not much better. IU abandoned the run game in the second half. Granted, they did not need to run the ball. But the Hoosiers offense, which outscored the Buckeyes 28-7 down the stretch, struggled in the first half. Pass protection was suspect with Penix having little time to throw the ball.
Overall, it was a valiant fight by the Hoosiers. They showed the LEO mantra of always believing. IU football should not fall far in the rankings and can continue to create history to finish a memorable season.
Indiana football will play its first regular-season Top 10 matchup in school history on Saturday. The Hoosiers' only other Top 10 matchup was the 1967 Rose Bowl when No. 4 Indiana fell to O.J. Simpson and No. 1 Southern California.
IU’s game will have historical and brand significance. This does not mean Indiana fans should be anticipating a victory in Columbus.
This is not to diminish No. 9 Indiana's talent and remarkable season. The Hoosiers are having their best season since that 1967 year. The defense is elite. The offense has some of the best playmakers in the country. But the Hoosiers are not winning the national championship. The second-worst Power Five FBS program in history (only Wake Forest has a worse all-time winning percentage) has not won a bowl game since 1991. They are not ready to win a Big Ten Championship.
Ohio State has won three Big Ten Championships in a row. The Buckeyes were 23 yards away from defeating Clemson and playing in the National Championship last year. OSU won the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014.
The Buckeyes are a program on a different level than fellow powerhouses Michigan and Penn State. Michigan has not won a Big Ten Championship since 2004. Penn State has won one Big Ten Championship since 2008.
And that is not even considering the historic ineptitude of both programs this year. During the Urban Meyer and Ryan Day era Ohio State has thoroughly out-recruited, outplayed and out-achieved any other college football program north of the Ohio River.
This year the Buckeyes have 14 players who were five-star prospects on their roster. Only Georgia, Alabama and Clemson are also in double digits. Michigan has two five stars. Penn State has one.
Recruiting rankings are fickle but it’s just another reminder of the gap during the College Football Playoff era of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and everyone else. Occasionally a school puts everything together for a year to play with the big boys. LSU and Georgia in recent years. Notre Dame appears to be the school in 2020.
And no, Indiana is not putting together the magic of a 2019 LSU or even 2015 Michigan State. Maybe in five years. Counterpoint? Upsets happen every year. That is what makes college football great.
Let’s look at the recent upsets of the Buckeyes. Ohio State has two losses in the Big Ten since 2017. In 2018, the Buckeyes ran into the magic of Tyler Trent in West Lafayette. Purdue blew out Ohio State on a night bigger than sports: