BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – It was all there for the season-opening taking — a nationally televised upset over a perennial national power, a potential program-changing victory.
The Hoosiers took it.
Saturday’s 36-35 overtime win over No. 8/7 Penn State at a nearly empty Memorial Stadium — courtesy of quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s diving two-point conversion that barely survived a review — was a catharsis for a program that had been so close for so long.
“It shows you can’t count us out,” Penix said. “We didn’t finish the last few years. That’s been something we’ve been stressing. Guys made plays when they needed to be made.”
Did they ever.
“It was an opportunity to show the world what the Indiana Hoosiers are all about,” Penix said.
For so long, IU had been poised to beat good teams, great teams, and failed. Its 1-22 record against Penn State reflected that.
Business remained unfinished – until Saturday night.
“We showed we can play with any team in the nation,” safety Jamar Johnson said. “We have a bunch of guys who bought in.”
Heroes were everywhere, from Penix to tailback Stevie Scott III with his bruising runs to receiver Whop Philyor and his overtime TD catch to Jamar Johnson and his interception, forced fumble and 10 tackles to linebacker Micah McFadden and his team-leading 11 tackles to kicker Charles Campbell’s two field goals (including a 48-yarder) to receiver Jacolby Hewitt, whose spectacular diving 14-yard red-zone catch (his only one of the game) gave IU a force-overtime chance.
“When you think about all the things that happened and plays made to allow us to win,” coach Tom Allen said, “it’s amazing.
“You have to win games like this to build your program and be a Big Ten contender, which is my goal.
“We have a long ways to go. We have to keep coaching and get better. This was a monumental win for this program.”
For those asking why Allen went for the two-point overtime conversion rather than kick the extra point for a second extra period, well, are you kidding?
“I made the decision during the (overtime) drive,” Allen said. “It was going through my head. This was the No. 8 team in the country. We’ve been close and I was sick and tired of being close.”
Indiana went for it all and was rewarded with a victory for the ages. Its last win over a Top-10 team came in 1987 over then No. 9 Ohio State.
“It’s a building block for me,” Allen said. “I expected us to win. I believe in this team. It gives you confidence to come back like we did.
“Since I’ve been here, we have found ways to lose. This time, we found a way to win. That’s why it’s so positive, to have that kind of finish.
“We had to have the confidence, the talent and the depth to finish against a team like that.”
IU did, with one other thing.
“If there’s any time left,” Allen said, “with Michael Penix at quarterback, we have a chance.”
Penix, who struggled nearly the entire game, led IU to touchdowns and two-point conversions on its final two drives.
To force overtime with just 1:42 left in regulation, he directed a seven-play, 75-yard drive, ran for a 1-yard TD, then ran for the conversion.
In overtime, he hit Philyor for a 9-yard touchdown, then ran for the winning conversion.
“Big-time players make big time plays,” Scott said. “That’s what he did. He put the team on his back. We told him, keep it up. We fully trust him. Nobody had any doubt he would do it.”
The winning play was designed for Penix, Philyor or Scott. As Allen put it, “We wanted the ball to go to one of our three best players.”
Penix set up to pass. When he saw Scott and Philyor covered, he sprinted for the near-side pylon, with Nittany Lions in furious pursuit.
“Everybody was covered,” Penix said. “I had to scramble. I’ve got to score, or we lose. I couldn’t let the team down. I gave it my all.”
He dived, extended his left arm, ball in his left hand. The ball hit the pylon just before his body hit the turf.
Hoosiers rushed the field, then paused. The play was under review.
“In my mind, I knew I scored,” Penix said. “I kept saying it on the sidelines.
Then came the official decision – the conversion was good.
“As soon as I saw the pylon go down,” Scott said, “I knew. Mike has long arms. He has a great football IQ. He made a great play and got us a win.”
As for the overtime win-or-lose gamble, Scott said, “We all wanted to go for the win. You have to have the heart and (guts) to do it.
“We knew we could do it. We fully trusted Mike. I told him, don’t be scared to run if nobody is open. He took those words to heart. He won us the game.”
For most of the game, Penix struggled, partly because of Penn State’s defense, mostly because it had been more than a year since he’d played, when an injury cost him the final seven games of the season.
He finished 19-for-36 for 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
“He didn’t play well for the majority of the game,” Allen said. “He hadn’t played in a long time.
“He took some shots, showed toughness, overcame some drops, miscues. When it counted and we had to have it, he made the play. That’s what great players do.
“This team believes in him. I believe in him. You’ve got to have a great quarterback to be a Top 10 team and have a chance in this league. That’s what we have.”
At the end of regulation, Penn State could have run out the clock. But tailback Devyn Ford ran 14 yards for a touchdown – IU let him — when he was supposed to take a knee at the 1-yard line.
“I was surprised,” Allen said. “I was hoping he wouldn’t go down. Fortunately, we got the chance.”
The Hoosiers had a 17-7 halftime lead, a 20-14 lead deep into the fourth quarter and multiple chances to clinch it.
Chances came and went. Passes were dropped or misfired. A pass coverage was blown.
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford took advantage to throw for 235 yards and three touchdowns, run for 119 yards and another TD.
It looked over.
Not even close.
“We believed the whole time,” McFadden said. “When they took the lead, nobody was hanging his head. That showed how together this team is. That made the difference.”
Next up is Rutgers, which upset Michigan State.
“We’ll take this win and enjoy it,” Scott said “but once we get to Monday, it’s time for work. Time to keep striving for greatness. We have to showcase it every Saturday. Put the world on notice.”
Indiana Head Coach Tom Allen
“Oh wow. My voice is shot so you may not hear me very well. But, guess my opening statement is just so proud of this football team. The coaches. The players. Everybody that is a part of us. Just an unbelievable ability to stay course. We did not play that well as a team. Did some good things on defense. Did some good things at times in all three phases. But, found a way to win. To God be the glory. I just really feel so blessed to be there in this program and these kids who come here with the belief that we are about to do things like we did tonight. Just cannot be prouder of a group of young men for believing, staying the course and finding a way to win.”
Q. On the choice to go for the two-point conversion to end the game…
“I made the decision during the drive, that last drive. I was going through my head. We got the No. 8 team in the country down here in the endzone. I knew if we scored, we got the ball on the three, one play to win it. We have been close and I am sick and tired of being close. I just decided we were going and I told the offensive coaches to be thinking about that. I took the timeout just to make sure we had everything in order. Now they actually followed up with a timeout themselves once we declared our formation but we liked the call and we stayed with the call. We felt like we had three people involved in that play, Whop Philyor, Stevie Scott III, and Michael Penix Jr., our three best players on offense. One of those two guys was going to get the football or Michael was going to choose to keep it which he did. Just confidence in our offense even though they did not play their best. They are going to get better. We are going to get a whole lot better. It was not anything other than the fact that I just in my gut, it seemed like the right thing to do.”
Q. On Penix coming through down the stretch…
“I think he showed a whole lot. He did not play very well. Offense did not play very well for the majority of the game. That is part of it. We have not played football in a long time in a game. He had not played an even longer time. He got hurt last November. He took some shots, he showed toughness, overcame some drops, overcame some miscues and mistiming and all those different things. When it counted and when we had to have it, he made the play and that is what great players do, they come up big when the game is on the line. He led our team down the field and scored, got the two-point conversion the first time and he got it again. That just shows you why he was voted captain unanimously by his team. They believe in him and I believe in him. I think he is really, really special. You got to have a great quarterback if you are going to beat a top-10 team in the country and that is what we got.”
Q. On what beating a top-10 team means for this program…
“Wow. I think it is a big win. There is no question. We got to turn around and play again next week. It is just a building block for me. I expected us to win this game before the game. Obviously, I believe in this football team but I can say that all I want. We have to prove that on the field and that is what this team did. Just tremendous confidence when you come back like we did. Just think about the whole sequence of events that happened there at the end late in the fourth quarter. Since I have been here we have found ways to lose those types of games. This game we found a way to win. This type of game. That is where it is so big. That is why it is so powerful to have that kind of finish and just to find a way to win. Sometimes, I do not even want to look at the stats but I just know this. We had one more point than they did when the final buzzer sounded.”
Q. On all those close losses before this, especially when Penn State scored late…
“We have a signal to our defense to let the opposing team score so we had that call. I was surprised. I was hoping he (Devyn Ford) would not go down at the one-yard line because if he did, then our chances of winning were pretty much eliminated. So, fortunately for us, got the chance. I knew with 1:42 with Michael Penix, I really believed we were going to go tie this game up. I really did. I just believe in him. I see him every single day. He did not play his best but he sure did at the end. That is what counts. That is what great players do. I have a lot of belief in this team. I really do. I believed it in the past. I just knew we need to have the confidence to finish and then the talent to finish and the depth to finish and all the things that you have to have to win games like this. I’m playing against a team that is highly ranked and that is highly regarded in our conference. We have only beat them one other time in the history of our program. It is just a huge, huge win for our guys and just a huge ability to finish. For me to answer your question, basically, just a lot of confidence that we were going to have a shot. I think now when you think about it as a team, if there is any amount of time left on that clock, our guys know if we got the ball and Michael Penix at quarterback, we got a chance.”
Indiana Player Quotes
Michael Penix Jr., Quarterback
Q. On the last play of the game…
“I saw the opportunity to go out and show the world what the Indiana Hoosiers were all about. Penn State played man-to-man and everybody was covered so I had to scramble. It was a two-point conversion so we have to score to win the game and I did not want to let the team down. I went out and gave it my all. Relentless effort by the whole offense. They fought the entire game and kept that 1-0 mindset.”
Q. On adjusting after the first quarter…
“It was our first game back and we wish we could have hit all of our targets early on in the game but just we kept a 1-0 mindset and moved forward. I told our receivers on the sideline that we were going to connect, we just have to be patient and let the game come to us. You do not have to force anything. That is what we did and stayed positive the whole game.”
Q. On what this win shows about Indiana as a team…
“I feel it shows that you cannot count us out. If you look back at the last few years, we did not really finish how we wanted to. That is something that we have been stressing all offseason. We have been waiting for this opportunity and the guys made plays when they needed to be made so that is one thing we did today, we made sure we finished.”
Micah McFadden, Linebacker
Q. On getting a signature win…
“We believed it the whole time. There was no doubt on the sideline. Definitely exciting that we could capitalize with the overtime win but I think there was just outstanding belief on the whole sideline. Nobody was hanging their head when they went up and I think that really shows just how together this team is, how much of a family we are and I think that made the difference.”
Q. On in-game adjustments…
“I would say that all week we kind of knew that, first game of the seasons are kind of weird. You never know what they are going to come out with, what they are going to run early. So, I think that first drive there were some things they were throwing at us that we were noy really ready for, but we made some quick adjustments on the sideline and throughout the first half. Into halftime we made some really good adjustments. I think our players just capitalized on the plays. I think back to where the tip pick and that was a huge part of the game, getting that good field position, and just the defense being one the whole game. I think that was a huge part.”
Q. On good defensive play early in drives…
“That was huge. We knew first and second down was going to be a big part, but also third down. We talked about it early in the week, just containing the quarterback and he did break out for some good runs but I think for the most part we had him contained pretty well. I think it was a huge part of winning first and second down for the most part and getting them into those third and longs, and being able to capitalize.”
Jamar Johnson, Safety
Q: On exploiting takeaways and ceasing opportunities…
“I think we just ceased the opportunities in the moment. He overthrew a pick to me, so I had to catch it. Also, I made an instinctive play down in the red zone. The quarterback tried to pull it, but I just went for the ball. I think that was seizing the moment.”
Q: On Michael Penix Jr….
“Mike is awesome. We are going at it every day in practice. He is making some throws and I am making some plays. I am making some deflections. We are making each other better. This a good win for him since missing a lot of the season last year. I think he is getting his confidence back now. Especially the last drive. He did a good job putting us in position to score. He gave us that 2-point conversion. That was big. Then, in overtime, he was really locked in.
Q: On the mindset during the final review…
“It was big. That is the way we want it. We let them score on the last drive. …. I think that was the smart thing to do. Just trust in our offense that they would go down and get us into overtime. The last play I saw the pile and I moved. I thought it was six, I knew it was six. There was no doubt about it. I felt that we won which we did.
Stevie Scott III, Running Back
Q: On what flipped in the offense in the fourth quarter…
“It was us recuperating at the end of the third quarter. We were telling each other to finish strong, just keep playing our game and keeping a positive mindset. Finishing up our plays. We knew that we could make plays at any given moment as long as we just stuck together as a team and did not let anything get us down in that moment, we would be good.”
Q: On guarding against a meltdown…
“We got to check the game for this weekend, but we know once we get back on Monday it is time for work for the next opponent. We got to keep striving for greatness this whole entire season, and just take every game one by one. At the end of the day we know what we can do. We just have to go out there and showcase it every Saturday. Like we did today, we just want to keep putting the world on notice and playing Indiana football.”
Q: On Penix’s demeanor in the final two drives…
“You know what they say. A big-time player makes big-time plays. That is definitely what he did. He gave us a last-minute drive down the field to get us to score and go for the extra two-point conversion. Him getting it himself, he was definitely putting the team on his back. We had a lot of guys on the sidelines just keeping up with Mike and telling him to stay positive to keep doing his thing. The whole team has full trust in Mike. At the end of the day, when we were down 20-28 no one on the sidelines had any doubt. We put up points and that is the outcome of what happened today.”
Penn State Head Coach James Franklin
“Like always appreciate everybody being here and being on and covering Penn State football. The people that traveled we appreciate you guys traveling. First of all, like always, you got to give Indiana credit. You know they played well. And we did, you know, not, not a good combination especially early on. We did not play well in really six years at Penn State and 10 years of being a head football coach.
“We have not been a team to get penalties. And we have not been a team to get turnovers. Tonight, we had both, we had 10 penalties for 100 yards, which is very uncharacteristic of us. And then we had, you know, three turnovers. And a lot of those turnovers were in the red zone too. A lot of different situations came up through this game and a lot of different plays. We finally got into a rhythm in the second half a little bit but you can’t you can’t not play well, you know on the road in the big 10 against good opponents and we didn’t do that early on.”
On the Penn State scoring play up 21-20 late in the game…
“I think the hard part here is that there were a lot of plays throughout that game that we would have liked to been different. In some ways, probably people look at that one play but there’s a lot of plays throughout the game that you know that we should have done differently and should have handled differently and could have made plays. It’s my job as the head coach to make sure everybody clearly understands those situations and, obviously, right there that didn’t happen.”
On Sean Clifford’s early interceptions…
“I didn’t feel like we were comfortable on offense and were in a rhythm, in the first half. I think you know obviously you know a lot of that, you know, was the quarterback, it’s just the nature of playing football and the nature of offensive football, but I thought he did settle down as the game went on. I also thought when he became a more aggressive runner, that’s a big part of Sean’s game and I think, you know, when he became a more aggressive runner then other things fell into place for him.”
On the Indiana two-point conversion replay and call…
“I never get to see anything before I get to you guys. I look at the jumbotron, that’s the best look I get. I talked to the guys on the headset up in the booth to see what they saw. You know, to me, from what I was told, it could have went either way but if it’s something that could have went either way, then it’s inconclusive and the call stands. I haven’t seen it, you know I literally come off the field I talk to the team. I do Penn State radio and then I come in to talk to you guys. I haven’t seen any film.”
Courtesy of IUHoosiers.com