COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State had to sweat out a furious second-half rally by No. 9 Indiana on Saturday, but the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes hung on for a 42-35 victory to keep their national championship aspirations alive.
Leading 35-7 early in the third quarter, the Buckeyes never scored another offensive point, and Indiana slowly whittled away at the lead. Ohio State didn't have much of an answer for Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Forced to pass after falling behind, he picked apart the Ohio State secondary for a career-high 491 yards passing and five touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle had his third straight huge game, making seven catches for 233 yards. It was his second consecutive 200-yard game.
Indiana actually had a shot to tie late in the game thanks to an odd decision by Ohio State coach Ryan Day. It was 42-35 and the Buckeyes had the ball on Indiana's 6-yard line. On fourth-and-1, Day decided not to kick a field goal and make it a two-score game, and Fields's pass was high and the Buckeyes turned it over on downs.
Indiana went three-and-out though, with the Buckeyes' blitz getting to Penix on third down. The Hoosiers punted, but got the ball back with 38 seconds left. Penix completed three passes and then had tight end Peyton Hendershot wide open at midfield, but he dropped it. A wild last-second play with several laterals didn't work, and the clock ran out.
"We didn't get the result we wanted today, but we showed everybody that we're going to fight for the whole 60 minutes,'' Penix said. 'There were a lot of great things that happened out on the field, but we made a few too many mistakes. We'll just keep working and keep getting better. There were definitely a few throws I wish I could have back.
"We fought back, but we've just got to finish. We had a chance.''
Indiana did a nice job of pressuring Fields in the first half, forcing his first two interceptions of year. After a quick score to open the game, Fields and Ohio State went four straight possessions without moving the ball, picking up only 61 yards in 14 plays.
But then Fields got hot, and when he was able to escape pressure, he started making big plays with his feet and his arms. He led Ohio State on three consecutive scoring drives of 75, 76 and 93 yards to blow the game open. During those drives, he rushed for 49 yards and threw for another 107. Master Teague scored the second touchdown on a 41-yard run and Fields scored the third on a 9-yard scramble around the left end to make it 28-7 with 17 seconds left.
The final three minutes of the half really swung the momentum. Indiana was trailing 21-7 but threatening. Penix found David Ellis wide open for a 51-yard gain to the 13-yard line, but on the next play, he hit Ellis over the middle, but he fumbled and Ohio State recovered. Fields led that 93-yard drive for a score, so instead of a seven-point game, it was a 21-point deficit at the break.
Indiana struggled to run the ball in the first half, with its running backs gaining only 17 yards on nine carries. Penix threw the ball 22 times, with 12 completions for 197 yards. He also had a 68-yard strike down the middle to Miles Marshall that led to the Hoosiers' first score, a 4-yard pass to Whop Philyor.
Ohio State went up 35-7 after scoring on its first drive of the second half, but Indiana refused to go away. Abandoning the running game, Penix led Indiana on three scoring drives, throwing for 195 yards and three scores on the three possessions to make it 42-28. The only Ohio State points came on an interception by Shawn Wade and a return for a score.
Fields finished the day 18-for-30 for 300 yards passing, and also rushed for 78 yards on 15 carries.
"We just couldn't get him on the ground.'' Indiana coach Tom Allen said of Fields. "We had some of our best tacklers with hands on him, and we couldn't stop him. He's a great player. We did not tackle well, and we couldn't make stops when we needed to.
''There's no question the gap is closing, but we're not there yet. There's no consolation prize, though. We came here to win this game.''
Fields was happy with the win, but he also knows he needs to play better going forward.
“I didn't play well at all,'' Fields said "I made bad decisions, I had three picks, but we got the dub, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters.”
Master Teague rushed for 169 yards on 26 carries. He was the first running back to rush for more than 100 yards against Indiana all season.
"Games like this, there are two or three plays that make a difference. That happened today, and you've just got to keep moving forward.''
Ohio State coach Ryan Day was frustrated with all the big plays his defense allowed.
“If we don't give up those big plays, we probably run away with this game, but we did,'' Day said. "Giving up 491 passing yards is way too much. I'm definitely not pleased. We have a long way to go, but we've only played four games. We have to keep growing."
Indiana is scheduled to return home next weekend to play Maryland, but that game is in jeopardy because of a rash of positive COVID-19 tests in the Terrapins' program. They have been forced to cancel two games in a row. Ohio State plays at Illinois next week.