COLUMBUS, Ohio – Concede?

Are you kidding?

Ninth-ranked Indiana had no time for that. It had a game to win, a comeback to deliver, and if it didn’t quite happen on a dreary Saturday afternoon, if No. 3 Ohio State had enough talent to survive, 42-35, don’t miss the message:

The Hoosiers (4-1) are legit.

“We’re a great team,” quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “The guys fought. We’ll fight the whole 60 minutes.

“I love what I saw. We didn’t get the results we wanted, we have a lot to correct, but we’ll keep pushing forward.”

Sharing the love was Lebron James – yes, THAT Lebron James – who tweeted, “They’re going to be scary good very soon.”

No one had ever beaten Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in the same season.

Maybe no one ever will, but the Hoosiers gave it a riveting try despite a 28-point second-half deficit and a limited rushing attack.

“We’ve got to put four quarters together,” receiver Ty Fryfogle said. “That’s when this team will be really special.”

IU had lot 25 straight times to Ohio State. It had been blown out 51-10 last season at home by the Buckeyes.

Yes, that was mentioned.

“We didn’t forget that,” safety Jamar Johnson said.

But this is a better team, a more mature team, a team well suited to handle Ohio State’s wave of four- and five-star talent.

“We want to prove on the field we’re one of the top programs in the Big Ten,” head coach Tom Allen said. “That’s our goal. We’re getting closer.”

Allen pushed that message even when the Hoosiers fell behind 35-7 early in the third quarter.

“We’re a mentally tough team that didn’t quit,” Allen said. “We came here to win. We believed we could. Close isn’t good enough. We’re putting ourselves in position to go toe to toe with the best teams in the country, and that’s not going to stop.”

As for the yearly challenge of playing Ohio State’s perennial national-title-contending program, Allen said, “The gap has been closed, but we’re not there yet. They have a lot of elite players that make it challenging.

“We have to keep recruiting and keep developing to make plays to win games like this.”

Down by seven in the closing minutes, the Hoosiers had two shots to force overtime, and couldn’t make it happen.

“We did a lot of great things,” Penix said, “but we can do better. We have to find a way to win. We have to finish. The defense gave us opportunities at the end. We have to take advantage of it.”

One dimensional offense should have had no chance against an Ohio State team (4-0) with national title visions. IU had minus-1 rushing yards.

Penix said to heck with that for a career-high 491 passing yards and five touchdowns. It was his third straight game of at least 300 passing yards.

He burned a youthful Buckeye secondary for passes of 68 yards to Miles Marshall, 63, 56 and 33 yards to Fryfogle, and 51 to David Ellis.

“They just happened,” Penix said about the big plays. “(Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan) put us in good situations. We have a lot of playmakers. That’s it.”

He did throw a pick-6 to cornerback Shaun Wade that ultimately was the difference.

“It was not a good throw,” Penix said.

As he has been for the last three weeks, Fryfogle, the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, was the top target with seven catches for 218 yards and three touchdowns. Many of them came against Wade, Ohio State’s best cornerback.

“I was moving around,” Fryfogle said. “Coaches put me in great spots to make plays, but it doesn’t matter when you lose. It’s disappointing.”

In his last three games, Fryfogle has 25 catches for 560 yards and five TDs. He’s the first player to ever have consecutive 200-yard receiving games in Big Ten play.

“It’s his ability to make big catches,” Allen said. “He has so much body control and comes up with big plays.

“They had a hard time stopping him. He’s a special player. I’m excited for him to be playing at this high of level.”

IU’s defense rattled Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, a top Heisman Trophy contender, into a series of mistakes. The Hoosiers hit him, hurried him, confused him. They blitzed, mixed coverages and attacked. Their three interceptions (2 by Jamar Johnson, one by defensive tackle Jerome Johnson) matched the number Fields had thrown in his entire college career.

“We showed different coverages,” Jamar Johnson said. “We messed up his reads.

“He likes to look at one receiver and not go through his progressions. We disguised our coverages.”

Minutes into the game, Jamar Johnson did what no one had done all season – intercept Fields.

A few minutes later, Jerome Johnson, all 304 pounds of him, got his first career interception.

Still, Fields threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 78 yards and another TD.

“He’s so strong and quick,” Allen said. “Some of our best players couldn’t get him on the ground. That’s frustrating.

“They have so much talent on the perimeter that stresses you. You want to pressure him. His escapability is hard to deal with.”

Ohio State rocked Indiana almost immediately, forcing a punt on the game’s first possession, then getting a 65-yard Fields-to-Garrett-Wilson catch and run on its first play to set up Fields’ 10-yard TD pass to Wilson on its second.

Just like that, it was 7-0.

IU’s defense settled down with Jamar Johnson’s interception, a Buckeye punt and Jerome Johnson’s pick on Ohio State’s next three possessions.

Then came the Penix-to-Marshall connection for 68 yards, then Penix to Whop Philyor for a 10-yard TD and a 7-7 tie early in the second quarter.

The Buckeyes pushed ahead 21-7. IU had a chance to push back thanks to a 51-yard pass play from Penix to Ellis. Score and the Hoosiers reach halftime with plenty of momentum.

But Ellis fumbled inside the 5-yard line after another catch and Ohio State recovered. That led to a Fields touchdown run and a 28-7 halftime lead.

“We had a chance to go in and score,” Allen said, “and not only do we not score, but they drive and score. It was a tough sequence you hate to have happen. You’ve got to secure the ball.”

The teams traded touchdowns in the first five minutes of the third quarter. IU’s score came on a 63-yard connection from Penix to Fryfogle. They combined for a 33-yard TD score a few minutes later to make it 35-21.

Ohio State got a pick-6 to go ahead 42-21 late in the third quarter. Penix threw his fourth TD pass of the game, this one to Ellis, on fourth down to cut the lead to 14 early in the fourth quarter. A 56-yard scoring toss to Fryfogle made it 42-35 with 10 minutes left.

The Hoosiers got no closer, but a statement was made.

“We finished the last two quarters as hard as we could,” Jamar Johnson said. “We left the tank empty. We’ll fight to the end no matter what.

“We always believe we have a chance as long as there’s time on the clock. Ohio State just made more plays than we did.”

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