Justin Fields, No. 3 OSU Outlast Michael Penix Jr., No. 9 Indiana in Thriller

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistNovember 21, 2020

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields looks for an open receiver during the second half of the team's NCAA college football game against Rutgers on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State won 49-27. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

The Ohio State Buckeyes have thrown a wrench into the Big Ten's Cinderella story via a thrilling 42-35 win over the Indiana Hoosiers at the Horseshoe on Saturday. 

Indiana has been one of the best stories in college football this season. The program entered this marquee matchup ranked in the Top 10 of the Associated Press poll for the first time since 1969 and was seeking its first 5-0 start since 1967. 

The Buckeyes have historically dominated the Hoosiers. They came into this game with a 75-12-5 record against their Big Ten rivals and had won 24 straight games dating back to 1991 by an average margin of 22.7 points. 

Justin Fields looked human early in the game for the first time this season. He threw three interceptions, with two coming on his first five pass attempts. Ohio State's defense bailed him out on those early turnovers by holding the Hoosiers out of the end zone in the first quarter. 

The Buckeyes looked like they had taken control of the game with a 21-point second quarter to carry a 28-7 lead into halftime. 

Indiana stormed back with a 28-7 run after falling behind by four scores, but its comeback bid fell short when Ohio State's defense got two stops on the final two drives.

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Notable Game Stats

  • Justin Fields, QB, OSU: 18-30, 300 yards, 2 TD, 3 INT; 15 carries, 78 yards, TD
  • Master Teague III, RB, OSU: 26 carries, 169 yards, 2 TD 
  • Garrett Wilson, WR, OSU: 7 receptions, 169 yards, 2 TD
  • Chris Olave, WR, OSU: 8 receptions, 101 yards
  • Michael Penix Jr., QB, IU: 27-51, 491 yards, 5 TD, INT
  • Ty Fryfogle, WR, IU: 7 receptions, 218 yards, 3 TD
  • Miles Marshall, WR, IU: 4 receptions, 89 yards

        

Running Game Lifts OSU amid Fields' Passing Struggles

It's been easy to overlook Ohio State's running game through its first three games because Fields wasn't throwing incomplete passes. He had 11 combined incompletions against Rutgers, Penn State and Nebraska. 

On Saturday, though, Fields showed cracks in the armor that made him a Heisman front-runner.

Some of the credit goes to Indiana's defense, which was doing a good job containing the receivers and forcing Fields to stand in the pocket longer than he wanted. But he also made bad throws that resulted in easy turnovers. 

This doesn't mean Fields was all bad when he dropped back to pass. His first completion of the game was to Garrett Wilson for 65 yards. The junior superstar had 74 of Ohio State's 75 yards to open the second half, including a nine-yard touchdown pass to Wilson.

But this game belonged to Master Teague III and the Buckeyes running attack. Fields also played a big role in this area with a season-high 78 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

Teague, who entered Saturday averaging a career-low 4.5 yards per carry, had his breakout game. The entire Buckeyes offense at one point was outrushing Indiana by 254 yards:

The rushing margin actually increased by the end of the game, with Ohio State having 307 yards on the ground to minus-one for Indiana.

Another emerging issue for Ohio State head coach Ryan Day is on defense. His team has allowed at least 25 points in each of the past three games.

Indiana's offense was inconsistent, but it had four touchdown drives of at least 60 yards and a fifth that came on a 56-yard pass to Ty Fryfogle. Michael Penix Jr. averaged 9.9 yards per completion and kept the Hoosiers close until the end.

One hallmark of a great team is winning when you don't play your best game. Ohio State didn't look at its best against a good Indiana squad but did enough to escape with a victory and remain undefeated. 

                

Hoosiers Prove Themselves as Legit in Defeat

Given the unusual circumstances under which this season is being played, it was fair to wonder how much of Indiana's initial success was earned.

This program has only been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 once since 1995 (Week 11 in 2019). The Hoosiers' wins were against Penn State, Michigan, Rutgers and Michigan State, four teams with a combined record of 3-13 entering Saturday. 

Through the first 33 minutes of game time against Ohio State, it looked like Indiana was being exposed by a good team. The Buckeyes scored four unanswered touchdowns to take a 35-7 lead with 12:10 remaining in the third quarter. 

From that point on, Indiana came to life and looked like the No. 9 team in the nation. The combination of Penix and Ty Fryfogle continued picking secondaries apart. 

The program showed improvement under head coach Tom Allen last season with an 8-5 record. It was the first winning season for the Hoosiers since 2007 and their most wins in a campaign since 1993 (8-4). 

Now in his sophomore season, Penix looks to have taken a significant leap. He threw for 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns with a 68.8 completion percentage in 2019 while splitting time with Peyton Ramsey. 

Fryfogle is putting himself in the race for the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver, with at least 200 yards in back-to-back games. 

There were even positives to take away from the defense, even though it gave up 42 points. Fields turned the ball over three times after not having an interception in the previous three games and was under constant pressure. 

Indiana put itself on the national radar against Ohio State, even though the result wasn't what the team was hoping for.

              

What's Next?

Indiana will return home next Saturday for a matchup against Maryland. Ohio State will play the first of two straight road games next Saturday when it travels to Champaign to take on Illinois.