Four of them Saturday afternoon. Every one of them crucial.
Indiana’s offense effectively capitalized on the first three, turning them into 17 big points. And the last one sealed a hugely important 34-32 win over Maryland.
It came with 52 seconds left, a caused-fumble by Kayton Samuels and a recovery by senior classmate Nike Sykes at the Maryland 47.
“It felt great,” Sykes recalled. “I knew when I saw Kayton Samuels get the strip, and I saw the ball on the ground, I had to get on it immediately. I knew that would be the ballgame.”
And so Hoosier head coach Allen naturally felt pretty great about it, too.
“All four of those were what I consider pure takeaways,” Allen said post-game. “We took the ball from them. Just so proud of our guys. Four takeaways is huge.
“We continue to be great in that area, one of the top teams in the country taking the ball away (leading the Big Ten and eighth nationally with 20 going into Saturday), and it proved to be the difference in the game – and scoring touchdowns, and not kicking too many field goals.”
As it turned out, IU kicked just enough field goals – two – the second a pressure-packed 42-yarder by Logan Justus with 2:32 to play that flipped the lead for the last time.
Indiana’s offense did what it had to do, too. The running game was solid, but it was the downfield passing game featuring quarterback Peyton Ramsey and his trusty receivers that was revelatory.
Ramsey averaged 15.2 yards per completion, a huge number. He entered Saturday averaging 9.2.
“They were just giving us those down-the-field throws,” Ramsey said. “For me, it was really just a matter of letting Ty (Fryfogle), Donavan (Hale) and Nick (Westbrook) go make plays. And they did a really good job.”
And then there was what proved a successful bend-don’t-break strategy from Allen’s defense.
Maryland gained 542 yards (compared to IU’s 374, though the Hoosiers averaged almost the same as the Terps per play) and controlled the ball for 39:12 compared to IU’s 20:42.
But the hosts won the only statistic that ultimately matters.
“Well, the objective is to finish the game with more points than your opponent and we were fortunate to do that today,” Allen said. “Tough, hard fought game. I knew it was going to be.
“Very impressed by their offense, the way they run the football, and they did a lot of good things. But … we decided as a staff to take the approach of forcing them to kick field goals. That was the plan.
“I knew we were going to be a little bit less aggressive against their run by design, because I was so concerned about their ability to throw it over our heads. They had done that so many times on film, and just had some speed that we didn’t match up with very well. So chose to go with a plan to play a lot of zone and to keep everything in front of us.
“It led to some more yards than you want to give up, more time of possession than you want to give up. But … ”
That tone was set early.
Maryland amassed 169 yards to IU’s 12 by the end of the first quarter but led just 6-0 as the Hoosier defense stiffened in the red zone twice.
And then early in the second quarter, in a 4:21 span, Indiana’s offense ripped off 21 straight points.
And 35s were wild on IU’s first scoring drive.
A perfect throw by Ramsey down the west sideline and great job gaining separation by Fryfogle netted 35 yards to the Terp 35. And Ramsey ran it in from the 35 two snaps later and, presto, the Hoosiers led, 7-6 with 12:30 left in the half.
Ramsey juked inside defensive end Byron Cowart, then planted his outside foot to shake-and-back past linebacker Isaiah Davis, then ran through a couple of arm-tackle attempts and broke free for the TD scamper.
“I thought it was maybe a poor read, maybe not,” Ramsey recalled of the TD. “Kind of 50/50 there. If I (keep it), it’s my job to make somebody miss. I did that, and there was nobody left, so I was able to get in the end zone.”
Ramsey reported his teammates, post-game, lauded his move past Davis.
“Everybody was asking me in the locker room,” Ramsey said with a laugh, “and I had no idea I could make a move like that.”
Having hurt the Terps with his fleet feet, Ramsey continued to hurt them with his arm.
After a Jaylin Williams interception set IU up at its own 36, Ramsey subsequently supplied another pinpoint pass downfield, this time hitting Donavan Hale right in stride for a 37-yard score down the west sideline to make it 14-6 with 10:07 left in the half.
And after a Jerome Johnson fumble recovery gave the Hoosiers the ball back at the Maryland 36, Stevie Scott scored standing up from the 2 five snaps later and it was 21-6 with 8:11 remaining before intermission.
It marked Scott’s eighth rushing TD of the season, setting a school record for a true freshman. And he would finish with his fourth 100-yard game (103 on 19 carries, a 5.4 average).
Maryland starting quarterback Kasim Hill was injured on a fine open-field tackle by Cam Jones with 7:20 left in the half, but backup Tyrrell Pigrome promptly converted a third-and-7 with his feet and led a Terp TD drive.
Then Ramsey’s lone interception of the day led to a field goal as Maryland closed within 21-15 by intermission.
Penalties initially set IU back on the opening series of the third quarter, but Luke Timian worked free over the middle and Ramsey found him for a 25-yard gain to get the Hoosiers out of a hole.
Then Allen rolled the dice when his team faced a fourth-and-3 at the Maryland 48. Ramsey converted it with an 11-yard scramble.
“I think it was important, because it kind of set a tone – you know, ‘We’re going to go win this thing,’ ” Ramsey said of Allen’s gutsy gamble. “The coaches displayed their trust in us to go make a big play and we were able to do it.”
Indeed, the Hoosiers made the gamble pay off two snaps later as Ramsey – knowing he had a free play when he saw a flag fly against Maryland – fired deep toward the back of the end zone for Westbrook.
Despite a defender draped on his back, Westbrook made a superb catch for the 19-yard score that made it 28-15.
“I knew the (interference) flag was coming, but when the ball was in there air, I just try to make my play,” Westbrook said. “I wasn’t really sure what happened (at first) because my head hit the ground right after. But I think I dragged my toe (inbounds).”
The refs reviewed the play but the TD call stood.
IU redshirt freshman Alfred Bryant made a great tackle, strip and recovery of an Anthony McFarland fumble on the ensuing Maryland possession (one of McFarland’s rare bad moments on a day he ran 29 times for 220 yards). Indiana then moved 56 yards to set up a 23-yard Justus field goal that
made it 31-15 with 7:05 left in the third.
But then the Terps began battling back.
Maryland (5-5) got a 27-yard TD run from Javon Leake at 6:45 of the third, a 39-yard Joseph Petrino field goal with 12:25 to play, then saw Jeshaun Jones break through two IU defenders to complete a 15-yard scoring pass that gave the Terps a 32-31 lead with 4:45 to play.
Indiana (5-5) had to respond and did. Scott roared around for 27 yards to the Maryland 33 on the first snap of what became the decisive drive. The Hoosiers played it close to the vest from there, with a pair of runs getting to the Terp 24, setting up Justus’ winning boot.
And even as Maryland made it to midfield on its final drive, Samuels and Sykes then combined to seal the Terrapins fate.
“I was rushing the edge and kind of got cut off there – their running back kind of came to my side, so I started falling back (to set the edge),” Sykes recalled. “That’s when (Samuels) came up to make the tackle and I saw the ball come out.
“It was a complete game. Special teams, offense, defense, everybody played and did their part. A complete game and a good game for us.”
Allen gathered his troops in a happy Hoosier locker room and said:
“I’ll tell you what, men, I love this football team. I love this football team. I believe in you guys. I believe in what we’re doing and the way we’re doing it. It’s a process, to build this thing, this season.
“And we know what we’re fighting for, what we’re playing for. We just got No. 5. We know what we’ve got to do. But we’re going to enjoy this one. We’re going to enjoy No. 5. Took a lot of hard work to get to this point.”
But now the Hoosiers are at the point where one more win earns bowl eligibility. Their first chance to get it comes Saturday at Michigan, followed by IU hosting the annual Old Oaken Bucket clash with Purdue.