PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Indiana likes to preach that it wants the ball in the hands of its best players, and the No. 17-ranked Hoosiers did exactly that in a 37-21 victory over Rutgers on Saturday.
The Hoosiers, now 2-0 after opening the season with a historic victory over then No. 8-ranked Penn State, got a big day from quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who passed for 238 yards and accounted for four touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Whop Philyor had five catches for 137 yards and junior running back Stevie Scott rushed for 81 yards.
Penalties and miscues slowed Indiana early, which was something of a surprise since the Hoosiers had only four flags last week in their stunning upset of then-No. 8 Penn State. A roughing-the-passer penalty on linebacker Micah McFadden on fourth-and-5 let Rutgers keep the ball, and the Scarlet Knights scored on the next play on a Noah Vedral pass to Bo Melton from 23 yards out.
Two other penalties took away long gains on a pass to Whop Philyor and a run by Stevie Scott that cost Indiana 50 yards. And still trailing 7-0, Indiana had first-and-goal from the 8-yard line, but a bad snap over Penix's head led to a 15-yard loss. It forced the Hoosiers to settle for a Charles Campbell field goal from 42 yards out to make it 7-3.
Campbell kicked another field goal from 28 yards out on Indiana's next possession, making it 7-6 with 10:02 left in the second quarter, but then Indiana's defense took over, forcing two straight turnovers, both of which led to short fields and Indiana touchdowns.
On third down, a Vedral pass was tipped and Indiana defensive end Jonathan King intercepted it at the Rutgers 6-yard line. Three plays later, Penix snuck it in from the 1-yard line for the score, putting Indiana ahead for the first time at 13-6 with 4:56 to go in the half.
On the next Rutgers possession, Vedral threw another interception, this time by Jaylin Williams. Indiana defensive tackle Sio Nofoagatoto'a hit Vedral's arm on the throw and it floated out to Williams, who also had a pick last week against Penn State.
Indiana's defense was suffocating after that Rutgers touchdown. The Scarlet Knights ran 13 plays during the remainder of the first half, gaining no yards to go along with those two turnovers. For the half, they just 60 yards total on 26 plays. Indiana had 140 yards.
Another penalty early in the third quarter might have cost Indiana some points. After McFadden intercepted a Vedral pass, Penix hit Philyor in stride on a long pass play for 63 yards. But as he was trying to fight his way into the end zone, Philyor grabbed the face mask of a Rutgers defensive back and was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. Indiana was forced to settle for another Campbell field goal to make it 23-7.
Another Indiana penalty led to Rutgers points late in the third quarter. On third-and-long, the Hoosiers defense forced an incompletion, but defensive end Jovan Swann was called for a roughing-the-passer penalty, giving the Scarlet Knights new life. Three plays later, Kay'Ron Adams ran 37 yards for a score, and the two-point conversion made it 23-15 with 5:34 to go in the third.
Indiana answered immediately with its best drive of the game, going 75 yards on six plays, two of which were Rutgers pass interference penalties. Penix was 4-for-4 on the drive, and connected with tight end Peyton Hendershot from 2 yards out for a touchdown to make it 30-15 with 3:56 to go.
Rutgers followed with a nice drive, but Indiana defensive tackle Demarcus Elliott knocked down a pass on fourth down. Indiana went right dow the field and scored again, with another Penix-to-Hendershot TD throw. The big play of the drive was a 37-yard pass from Penix to Philyor.
Rutgers scored with 3:21 left to get to 37-21 and then recovered an onside kick. Indiana got three straight sacks, but then on fourth down, Rutgers scored from 55 yards out on a wild play that included eight laterals and took 33 seconds to play out. But the play was reversed and the score was taken off the board. So even though the play technically didn't happen, it will be a great highlight for some time.
Indiana returns home to play Michigan next Saturday. The Wolverines were upset by Michigan State 27-24 in their home opener. Rutgers (1-1) travels to No. 3 Ohio State.
Related stories on Indiana football
- DEFENSE RISES TO OCCASION: Indiana's defense forced three turnovers and was perfect on fourth down in stifling Rutgers. CLICK HERE
- LIVE HOOSIERS BLOG: Follow all that went on during Indiana's win over Rutgers in real time. CLICK HERE
- GAME PREVIEW, PREDICTION: HoosiersNow publisher Tom Brew takes a look at Rutgers and picks the game. CLICK HERE