Opponent Preview: Indiana At The Top Of Its Game

Jake Sage

Indiana Hoosiers 7-3 (4-3 in Big Ten)

Last Result: Penn State Nittany Lions 34 Indiana Hoosiers 27

The Hoosiers, who were trying to win in Beaver Stadium for the first time in program history, came up just short. Though the upset bid failed, Indiana proved to the rest of the Big Ten that they can hang around with the big dogs. However, keeping the game close and actually winning are completely different.

IU played the game without their starting quarterback, Michael Penix Jr., who is sidelined due to injury for the remainder of the season, their left tackle, Cory Cronk, who is also done for the season, and their best playmaker, wide receiver Whop Philyor, who did not return to the game after a helmet-to-helmet hit in the first quarter.

Indiana only led for 2:24 seconds, up 14-10 late in the first quarter, yet the game felt like it was in reach for the Hoosiers until the Nittany Lions scored to go up 10 with 1:44 left in the contest. The drive that put the game away for Penn State and gave them a 31-21 point lead was an 18-play, 75-yard touchdown possession that took over nine minutes of game clock. 

The methodical drive for the Nittany Lions, which only had two plays over 10 yards, started with 10:45 left in the game after the Hoosiers scored a touchdown that cut the deficit to three points.

The Hoosiers didn't get over 30 points for the first time since their third game of the season, against Ohio State. Even though Indiana did not match its typical scoring output, IU did have 462 yards on the day compared to Penn State’s 371. Indiana’s aerial attack, which ranks atop the Big Ten in passing yards per game at 314.0, didn’t slow down much after Philyor was sidelined, QB Peyton Ramsey went 31-for-41 throwing for a career high 371 yards.

Ultimately what cost the Hoosiers this game was themselves. Their star wideout and punt returner had two costly fumbles before he left the game with a concussion. While a fake punt also got stopped - Penn State capitalizing off these mistakes for 14 points. 

The Hoosier defense, which ranks 37th in college football giving up just 23.8 points per game, had their worst game defending the run since giving up 306 yards on the ground to the Buckeyes; Penn State had 192 yards and three touchdowns on 45 carries. 

QB Sean Clifford and RB Journey Brown combined for 31 of those carries for 155 yards, and accounted for all three rushing touchdowns. The Indiana pass defense, which ranks 4th best in the Big Ten giving up 176 yards passing per game, was solid, only allowing Clifford to throw for 179 yards. The Indiana defense was good enough for three quarters, but when they needed the stop late in the game to give their red-hot offense another chance with the ball, they failed to get it.

The Hoosiers Record in the last five years:

2019: 7-3 (4-3 in Big Ten)

2018: 5-7 (2-7 in Big Ten)

2017: 5-7 (2-7 in Big Ten)

2016: 6-7 (4-5 in Big Ten)

2015: 6-7 (2-6 in Big Ten)

How has Indiana Fared vs Ranked Opponents in Recent Years?

Indiana is 1-22 in their last 23 contests against Top 25 opponents. The Hoosiers only win against a ranked foe since the 2015 season came against the No. 17 Spartans 24-21 in 2016. Michigan State went on to finish that season 3-9, so considering this win an upset against a Top team is a stretch.

Indiana has been unable to beat many ranked opponents, yet they have kept their games against them close, losing 13 of 22 against AP Top 25 teams in the last six seasons by two possessions or less.

This season Indiana is 0-3 in battles against Top 25 teams. They got obliterated in Bloomington against No. 6 Ohio State 51-10. Then two weeks later, they lost a close contest in East Lansing to No. 25 Michigan State 40-31, before the Spartans began to struggle. Then their last ranked lost came when their upset bid in Happy Valley failed 34-27 against No. 9 Penn State.

The Hoosiers have lost their last 23 games against the Wolverines. The Wolverines haven’t lost to the Hoosiers since 1987, but recently the matchups have been pretty close. 

In the last four contests between these two teams, the Wolverines have never won by more than 11 points. In addition, Michigan has really struggled to pull away from the Hoosiers in Bloomington where they have won their last three games in Indiana by just a touchdown, two of which went to OT.

Players to Watch (Offense):

Whop Philyor, Junior, Wide Receiver

The junior wide receiver from Tampa is currently in concussion protocol and is questionable to play against the Wolverines. Philyor would be a huge loss for Indiana this weekend, as he is a crucial piece to the Hoosiers offense. The 5-11 178 pound wide receiver is 2nd in the Big Ten in receptions with 61, 3rd in the Big Ten in receiving yards with 863, and 6th in the Big Ten in yards from scrimmage with 913. 

Philyor also ranks the 2nd highest on his team in yards per reception at 14.1. 

Though Philyor has only three touchdowns on the season, he has had some breakout games, with double-digit receptions in three contests this season. In East Lansing, Philyor had his best game with 14 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. The junior wideout also had another 14-reception game against Nebraska, which he finished with 178 yards receiving. 

His top receiving yards game, though, came against Rutgers when he caught 10 passes for 182 total yards. 

Peyton Ramsey, Junior, Quarterback

The quarterback out of Cincinnati, who did not win the starting quarterback job to begin the season, leads the Big Ten in completion percentage at 72.7%, and also leads the Big Ten since 1956 with the best completion percentage over a career for someone who has thrown over 700 passes at 67.4%.

Due to injuries to Penix throughout this season, Ramsey has appeared in eight of Indiana’s games, including four starts. Penix is out for the rest of this season, so Ramsey will also get the ball for the final two games. 

The 6-2 216 pound quarterback has played remarkable in the chances he has been given, going 144-for-198 with 1,673 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Ramsey is also the teams second leading rusher with 153 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. 

Two Players to Watch (Defense):

Tiawan Mullen, Freshman, Cornerback

Mullen is a rare true freshman that worked his way up the depth chart once the season began and is already recognized as one of the best cornerbacks on his team. The 5-10 175 pounder ranks fourth in the Big Ten in passes defensed with eight, and according to Pro Football Focus, Mullen entered the Penn State game, allowing only four catches on just 18 targets going his way. 

The true freshman isn’t guarding slouches either - on a day Spartans' receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. had 117 yards and two touchdowns he caught zero passes on five attempts when defended by Mullen. 

Micah McFadden, Sophomore, Linebacker

The 6-2 232 pound middle linebacker out of Tampa leads the Hoosiers in tackles this season with 45 and tackles for loss at 6.5. McFadden also has 1.5 sacks and a pass defense on the season. The sophomore accounted for 11 tackles against Nebraska. McFadden has also more than doubled his tackle total from a season ago when he only accounted for 20 tackles.