COLUMBUS, Ohio – One of the greatest games ever by an Indiana quarterback and another virtuoso performance from a wide receiver that could be on his way to All-America honors weren't enough to earn No. 9 Indiana a victory over one of the best teams in the country.
Michael Penix Jr. threw for 491 yards, the second-most in Indiana history, and five touchdowns. And wide receiver Ty Fryfogle became the first Big Ten receiver ever to have two straight games with more than 200 receiving yards. But a 28-point third-quarter deficit was too much to overcome and No. 3 Ohio State escaped with a 42-35 victory at Ohio Stadium on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
“Most teams would lay down when the score was 35-7, but this team has a lot of fight in it,” said Fryfogle, who caught seven passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns. “We've just gotta find a way to put it all together.”
The Hoosiers (4-1) dropped out of first place in the Big Ten East and have lost 26 consecutive games against the Buckeyes (4-0).
Ohio State led 28-7 at halftime after Hoosiers wide receiver David Ellis fumbled in the red zone and Ohio State marched 93 yards for a touchdown to make it a 14-point swing. Then, the Buckeyes embarked on a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half to make it 28 consecutive points and a 35-7 lead.
Indiana punched back, with Penix hitting Fryfogle behind the Buckeyes secondary for a 63-yard touchdown. The deep ball was a theme of Indiana's second half resurgence as Fryfogle, who had 184 of his receiving yards after halftime, also caught touchdowns of 33 and 56 yards – the latter over likely future first-round draft pick cornerback Shaun Wade.
“He's got the ability to fight for the football,” Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said of his senior wide receiver. “He can make contested catches and just be big and strong and just run after the catch. ... He's just got so much body control and some guys have a knack for that and he does. He's a special, special player.”
Penix was special, as well, as Indiana had no run game to speak of and the left-handed gunslinger threw 29 times in the second half alone. He hit Ellis for a 16-yard score and then the 56-yarder to Fryfogle within a 90-second stretch to draw the Hoosiers within 42-35 with 10 minutes to play.
“Mike is very special,” Fryfogle said. “If you look at the tape, he can make any throw on the field, he can just do anything. ... He's a great playmaker, I just love Mike.”
Penix made only one big mistake: a throw to the outside in the third quarter that Wade stepped in front of and returned 36 yards for a touchdown to put Ohio State up 42-21 after back-to-back IU touchdowns.
“Not a good throw,” Penix said. “That's it.”
The Hoosiers turned the ball over three times, and Ohio State took advantage with 14 points off them. Indiana's defense forced Ohio State's Justin Fields, who had no interceptions all season coming into the game, into three picks, but the Hoosiers did not score off those turnovers. Still, the defense held one of college football's best offenses to zero points in the final 27:10.
Indiana mixed up its coverages prior to the snap to confuse Fields, who was also sacked five times, though he threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just messing up (Fields') reads,” said safety Jamar Johnson, who had two interceptions, and a sack. “Just trying to get to him that way because he mainly looks at one receiver, he doesn't really go through his progressions that much.”
The defense got two stops in the final five minutes to give the Hoosiers the ball with a chance to tie, but Indiana never got past midfield and the Buckeyes hung on.
Despite the loss, the Hoosiers gained some extra belief in themselves.
“So disappointed that we fell short, but proud of the heart, the fight, the toughness of this team,” Allen said. “You got a chance to see they truly are special.”