COLUMBUS, Ohio – Indiana had a chance to beat Ohio State. That in itself makes it a successful game for a program that is trying to establish itself as a true contender in the Big Ten.
But the fact that Indiana was unable to come up with a victory against the Buckeyes – IU lost 42-35 this afternoon at Ohio Stadium – was the result of a rash of mistakes, the lion's share of which seemed to come at the most inopportune moments. Here's a partial list, ranked by order of importance:
- Shaun Wade's pick-six: Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade is a star and Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. made a mistake by throwing in his direction in the third quarter when Wade had a chance to jump the route. The result was a 36-yard interception return for touchdown that stalled Indiana's momentum after the Hoosiers had cut Ohio State's lead from 28 to 14. The most bitter pill to swallow about this play was that the play immediately prior saw Penix drop a beautiful throw right into David Ellis's hands streaking down the sideline for what should have been a 40-yard gain. Instead Ellis dropped the ball. Speaking of Ellis ...
- David Ellis's fumble: The speedy true sophomore, who Indiana is looking to get more involved in the offense after he was hurt earlier in the season, caught a pass over the middle at the Ohio State 10-yard line in the second quarter with Indiana trailing 21-7. As he turned upfield, he nearly collided with the referee and as he moved the ball away from the ref, it slipped out of his hands. Ohio State recovered the fumble and then marched 93 yards to take a 28-7 lead at halftime, making it a likely 14-point swing.
- Jamar Johnson's fumble: Johnson was terrific for the Hoosiers, sacking Justin Fields once, breaking up a pass and intercepting the OSU quarterback twice (Johnson has three of Indiana's Big Ten-leading 13 interceptions). The second pick came on a particularly poor decision from Fields in the third quarter and Johnson simply waited under it for it to fall into his arms. He returned the interception 24 yards to the Ohio State 16, but as he was cutting upfield to try to reach the end zone, the ball was punched out from behind and the Buckeyes recovered, earning them a first down. "I didn't see him coming from behind me," Johnson said of the interception/fumble. "I was trying to make a move, I was trying to get in the end zone. I don't know who it was, but I know they made a heck of a play. That's on me, I've gotta work on my ball security. That'll never happen again."
Those were the three big mistakes that directly cost the Hoosiers points. Then there were the smaller mistakes: poor tackling, drops – especially Ty Fryfogle's early in the game on fourth down in OSU territory with no around him – and missed receivers from Penix, who was mostly spectacular but also sailed some throws to open or relatively open receivers.
It all added up to a missed opportunity for the Hoosiers to grab a true signature victory.
"The (Ellis) fumble before half, I thought the sequence there was tough," Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said. "Just to me, we had a fourth-down drop (Fryfogle's), we had a chance to convert there and get a field goal or touchdown. Those are tough mistakes. There's always two or three plays that you wish you could have back. The pick-six was tough. Michael did some awesome, awesome things, but you hate that. It's not a mistake he usually makes. In games like this, those kind of plays, in a 7-point game, those become the difference. We've gotta learn from them, correct them and keep moving forward."
So this loss will sting for a while for the Hoosiers as they ponder what could have been. It's tough to get spectacular performances from Penix, Fryfogle and most of the defensive backfield as Indiana did today and not come out with a win. If there was ever a year to topple the mighty Buckeyes and probably gain the unlikeliest of Big Ten Championship Game appearances, it was this one, when the East Division is as topsy-turvy as it's ever been.
The Hoosiers made believers out of a large portion of the college football world by hanging with the Buckeyes and having a chance to win at the end. If a few key plays had gone differently, they could easily have done much more than that. Now we get a chance to see what kind of resilience this program has as it gets ready for the rest of the Big Ten schedule, which includes a matchup against Wisconsin in two weeks. The Hoosiers lost today, but a New Year's Six bowl game is still within reach and how Indiana responds to a difficult defeat will determine whether it seizes that opportunity.