Saturday, October 5, 2013
Indiana finally gets over Penn State hump
By Brian Bennett
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana senior receiver Kofi Hughes had heard the same question several times this year: What's the best moment of your career? He could only stammer his way through an answer.
"I had nothing to say," Hughes said. "The last three or four years, there really hasn't been anything good at all. But it all built up until now."
Hughes has a quick response ready after Indiana knocked off Penn State 44-24 at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers had never beaten the Nittany Lions in 16 tries before Saturday. On attempt No. 17, they thumped them.
Shane Wynn (1) celebrates with Cody Latimer (3) during Indiana's first victory over Penn State in 17 tries.
After trailing 14-13 early in the second half, Indiana went on a 29-3 tear in a little less than a quarter's worth of action. It was easily the program's biggest win since the 2009 season finale over rival Purdue clinched a bowl bid, and it's unquestionably the high point in third-year coach Kevin Wilson's tenure.
Wilson, however, downplayed the historic element to this game during Indiana's two weeks of preparation. While everyone knew the 0-16 record, he tried to focus his team on the here and now.
"That record is always in the back of your mind, and you kind of want to win for the alumni and everything," quarterback Nate Sudfeld said. "But we were coming out here just trying to win a game, the 2013 Indiana team vs. the 2013 Penn State team. They had never beaten us, and we had never beaten them."
That message made sense, as Penn State (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) painfully reminded everyone that its depth and personnel issues are going to be tough to overcome. A pass defense shredded by UCF last month had similar problems slowing down Sudfeld and a talented group of Hoosiers receivers, and outside of star receiver Allen Robinson, the Nittany Lions lacked difference-makers on both sides of the ball.
"I don't think in any stretch of anybody's imagination that this is a normal Penn State team," Lions coach Bill O'Brien said. :"[Penn State has] 61 kids on scholarship and 40 walk-ons. But you know what? These kids are practicing hard. We need to coach them better."
Indiana's success in moving the ball was no surprise. But Wilson's defense exceeded expectations. Penn State put up 410 total yards but only had 70 rushing yards on 31 attempts. The Hoosiers managed to bother quarterback Christian Hackenberg with pressure and got key stops when needed, turning away four of the Nittany Lions' five fourth-down conversion tries. Wilson said he and the defensive staff pared down the game plan during the bye week, adding in a few blitzes but making things simple so their young players could attack more without thinking as much.
Meanwhile, Sudfeld passed for 321 yards and two touchdowns, and the Indiana running game, led by Tevin Coleman's 92 yards, added another 150 on the ground.
"Our offense, I still don't think, was as good as it needed to be to win this game," Hughes said. "But our defense has come a long way. They're ballin' right now. This is a stepping stone for us, and I definitely think it's going to springboard us for the rest of the season."
The Hoosiers hoped to get off to a strong start this year with their first five games all coming at home. But a disappointing loss to Navy and a poor showing against Missouri threw water on preseason bowl aspirations, and with some pregame rain and more in the forecast Saturday, Memorial Stadium looked only about 60 percent full at best.
Now, though, the team is sitting at 3-2 with winnable home games remaining against Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue. Wilson wants his team avoiding the big picture, but he couldn't deny how big Saturday's victory was.
"We have to win games like this," he said. "We are trying to build a program that is competitive in this league. [Penn State] is one of the standards you shoot for. It was nice to go toe-to-toe with them and play a decent game."
Penn State isn't nearly the team that put together most of those first 16 wins against Indiana. But for the Hoosiers, game No. 17 in this series still resonated.
"It's a big statement and a big game for our team, just to let us know all the work we've been putting in is really coming together," Hughes said. "And now this program is ready to turn around."