INDIANAPOLIS – Logan Justus, big man on campus.
Repeat until it sinks in.
Forget the glamour of a 300-passing-yard quarterback starting debut (see Michael Penix Jr. and his Antwaan Randle El impression) or a 103-yard receiving game (thank you, Nick Westbrook) or a victory-clinching interception (hello cornerback Jaylin Williams).
Indiana’s season-opening 34-24 victory over Ball State came down to Justus’s ability to make record long field goals. Again. And again. And again.
Three times the fifth-year senior broke his career record Saturday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium, connecting for 48, 49 and finally 50 yards. Add a 30-yarder and you have a 4-for-4 effort that continues last season’s 15-for-18 debut.
But that misses the point, which is that Justus was the difference in a game the Hoosiers needed to win.
No wonder coach Tom Allen calls him, “Clutch.”
“That’s why kickers are so hard to recruit,” he said. “There are some really good programs that have had issues with kickers. Some guys have the ability to come through when it counts, when the pressure is on. Some have the opposite of that.
“You can be a great kicker until you get in front of all those people when it’s live on game day. Sometimes they don’t kick near as well.
“(Justus) was awesome today.”
Allen got no argument from Penix.
“I told him during the game, ‘Man, I love you. I appreciate you putting points on the board,'” Penix said. “He told me, ‘Just get me down there.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’
“We work together as a team. Everybody trusts him.”
Trust was mutual.
“I don’t feel pressure,” Justus said with a smile “The team trusts me and I trust them.
“I trust the hold and the snap and the line. It’s doing the little things right. Consistency is a big thing we work on.”
The result is the best accuracy in school history (19-for-22). Justus said he picks a target beyond the uprights before the game. On Saturday, it was a white seat with a circle.
“I never look at the uprights,” he said.
As for his range, Justus told Allen before the game he was comfortable trying a field goal from 56 to 58 yards.
On his final, 50-yarder, which came with 4:05 left in the game, he said, “No one said anything to me. I knew the offense would get the ball down there, and that we’d all do our jobs.”
Then there was Penix, who put up numbers only Randle El, IU’s former Big Ten MVP who had a decade-long NFL career, has surpassed in the IU history books.
Penix was 24-for-40 for 326 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He ran for 67 yards on seven carries, giving him 393 total yards.
Randle El had 467 total yards, 385 passing, in his 1998 debut against Western Michigan.
“He showed how valuable he can be,” Allen said. “His zip on the ball is elite. He has some real talent.”
Penix won the starting quarterback job over Peyton Ramsey and Jack Tuttle in part because of his ability to generate big plays. That surfaced late in the first quarter when he hit Westbrook with a 75-yard touchdown pass.
That was 10 yards longer than any Hoosier completion from last year. It was IU’s longest catch since Westbrook had a 75-yarder from Richard Lagow against Wake Forest in 2016.
“It was a perfect throw,” said Westbrook, who caught three passes. “I couldn’t have asked for a better ball.”
Under new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, IU mixed offensive imagination with conventional play calling.
“I love the way Kalen is able to keep defenses off balance,” Allen said.
Consider the fourth-quarter, two-point conversion play from true freshman athlete David Ellis to redshirt sophomore tight end Peyton Hendershot.
“We thought he was going to run,” Allen said of Ellis. “He went to his second read. Technically, that was his third choice, with run first.
“The first read was covered. He threw it to a guy we’ve never thrown to one time in practice. That’s pretty good poise for a true freshman. He has something special.”
IU won despite too many missed tackles and unsportsmanlike penalties. Veteran husky Marcelino Ball was the biggest offender.
“I don’t get it,” Allen said. “It’s stupid penalties. That’s why I took him out. I ripped his tail. We’ll have a nice little week with him for that. He’ll never do that again.
“Defensively, we did not tackle well. That really sticks out to me. It was terrible. We’ll get that fixed. That’s not who we are.”
Still, as Allen said, “More than anything, we found a way to win.”
IU won the toss, and deferred to the second half. That meant the defense would get the first test, and passed. Ball State went three-and-out.
On the Hoosiers’ first offensive play, Penix hit Whop Philyor for a 7-yard completion. An 18-yard completion to Hendershot came two plays later.
Penix hit his first five passes for 57 yards before the drive stalled. Justus’ 48-yard field goal made it 3-0.
Ball State responded with a 70-yard drive and a field goal for a 3-3 tie.
Two plays later, Westbrook burned Ball State senior safety Ray Wilborn for that 75-yard TD.
The IU defense backed that up by holding the Cardinals to another three-and-out.
Then Penix threw an interception that Ball State converted into a touchdown and a 10-10 tie early in the second quarter.
A second Penix interception, followed by an IU pass interference call on third-and-long, put Ball State in position to take the lead, but the defense shut it down.
Penix then ignited the running game as the Hoosiers drove inside the Ball State 15-yard line. A pair of dropped passes limited them to a second Justus field goal and a 13-10 lead with 3:13 left in the half.
The Hoosiers had one more chance before halftime, getting the ball at their own 10-yard line with just over a minute remaining. Rather than play conservative, IU went aggressive. It paid off with Justus’s 49-yard field goal for a 16-10 lead.
IU pushed the running game to start the third quarter. Stevie Scott III’s 4-yard TD run put the Hoosiers ahead 23-10.
A blown tackle resulted in a Ball State 45-yard TD reception to cut the lead to six.
Scott’s second touchdown run, and the two-point conversion, pushed the Hoosiers ahead 31-17 early in the fourth quarter. After a Ball State touchdown, Justus hit his 50 yarder, and Williams ended any hope for a Ball State victory with an interception that gave IU a nation’s best 19-straight games with at least one takeaway, 11 straight with an interception.
“To learn from a win, when you don’t play very good, is a great feeling,” Allen said. “We’ll be a much better team next week.”