BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – How’s this for a statement?
Indiana crushed the football ghosts of Michigan misery past on a sun-splashed Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, 38-21.
Head coach Tom Allen believed, and had the bloody, gashed left cheek from a collision of his own making to prove it.
“Nobody thought we could win this game except for us,” he said. “That’s OK. Maybe people will change the way they view us.
“It’s what we told our players — how hard are you willing to work? I knew beating Michigan would elevate this program nationally.”
Yes, unbeaten Ohio State looms in a couple of weeks, and history does not favor the No. 13 Hoosiers (3-0), but it didn’t against traditional powerhouses Penn State and Michigan, and look what happened.
“We are changing this program around and getting it in the right direction,” tailback Stevie Scott III said. “This is a great feeling.”
IU beat up a Michigan program that traditionally beats it up. The No. 23/25 Wolverines (1-2) had won 24 straight in the series and 39 of the last 40 meetings.
On Saturday, that was as relevant as the wishbone offense.
The Hoosiers dominated nearly every statistic, from total yards (460-357) to rushing yards (118-13) to time of possession (39 minutes to 21) and more.
Repeat, 118 rushing yards to 13.
Indiana’s most lopsided previous wins over Michigan came in 1959 (26-7) and 1944 (20-0).
“This is something we expected,” quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “It’s all the hard work we put in. We practice for moments like this. We executed at a high level.
“It’s just the beginning. We make to make sure we continue with this.”
Easy to say, not to do for a program that hasn’t started this well in Big Ten play since 1988.
“It’s us playing as a team, loving the next man, trusting the person beside you,” Penix said. “Protect our bothers, make game-changing plays when they need to be made. All units playing together.”
The Hoosiers capped it off by running out the final five minutes with a shocking display of power football.
“It’s funny how the roles switched,” Scott said. “We ran and pounded those guys. We went hard to finish it out.”
The tone was set during a brutal Wednesday practice more suited for mid-August camp than a few days before a crucial game.
“We had the most physical practice I’ve ever been a part of,” Allen said.
The Hoosiers practiced Monday night, took Tuesday off because of the national election, then began Wednesday morning’s practice flat.
“I went on a rampage,” Allen said. “It was a mean, nasty, physical practice. Somebody got hurt, but I felt we had to have that mindset in this game. The attention to details. The physicality.”
Added Scott: “Coach Allen stressed being aggressive and physical. We had to be the more physical team. That’s what we did.”
Physicality turned personal late in the fourth quarter with Allen’s celebratory tackle of safety Devon Matthews after his 24-yard interception return clinched a victory 33 years in the making. The collision gashed Allen’s cheek.
“His helmet hit my cheekbone,” Allen said. “I might have broken it, but I don’t care.
“I knew that was the dagger. That was it. That was the final thing we had to do to secure the win.”
His players have seen this before from their high-energy coach.
“That motivated me,” cornerback Jaylin Williams said. “If he gets the chance, he’ll do it again.”
The Wolverines hadn’t committed a turnover in their first two games. IU had forced six.
Make it eight after interceptions from Williams and Matthews.
“We show a lot of different coverages,” cornerback Reese Taylor said. “It’s hard for quarterbacks to get their offense in the right play.”
Williams’ third interception of the season not only ended that Wolverines’ no-turnover streak, but set up the Hoosiers for the clinching touchdown.
“I was a senior in high school last time we beat Michigan,” Allen said, “and I’m 50 years old. It was a long time coming.”
Indiana ripped Michigan with a ruthless passing assault.
Penix delivered his second career 300-yard passing game with a career-high 342 yards and career-high-tying three touchdowns. He was 30-for-50, completing passes to seven different receivers, led by Whop Philyor’s 11 for 79 yards and Ty Fryfogle’s seven for 142 yards (both career-highs) and a touchdown.
The Wolverines blitzed Penix and he punished them. They mixed man and zone coverages and he shredded them.
“This kid has some things that most guys don’t have — the quick release, the accuracy, the arm strength,” Allen said.
“He’s a great player. I believed in his kid. He has something special about him.
Short passes, crossing routes, deep balls. IU offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan unleashed the passing playbook and Michigan had no answer.
Time and again, desperate Michigan defenders resorted to grabbing Hoosier receivers, drawing four penalties.
“Mike got the ball out quick, made quick reads against a complicated (scheme),” Allen said. “He got the ball to the guys who were open.”
The Wolverines arrived with pass defense vulnerability, having allowed more than 300 yards to Michigan State the previous week, and a 260-yard average for the season.
Penix had 254 in the first half.
“Coach Sheridan was making great calls,” Penix said. “He was ripping those plays out without any hesitation.
“It was reading the defense. It was working, so we continued to do it.”
The aftermath left Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh pushing for positives.
“We’re close,” he said. “You see it done in practice. You see it happening. It’s got to take the next step of happening in games.”
IU opened the game with a go-for-the-jugular mentality.
Michigan’s first series lost three yards in three plays. Indiana’s first series gained 74 yards and a touchdown.
A late first-quarter loss of focus came when IU safety Jamar Johnson was ejected for an unsportsmanlike penalty. Michigan took advantage with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Joe Milton to Cornelius Johnson for a 7-7 tie.
Previous Hoosier teams might have buckled.
Not this one.
“We can’t blink,” Taylor said. “It’s next man up. We had to buck up more. Make sure no one was left behind. Make sure everyone was on the same page.”
The Hoosiers regained the lead on Penix’s 24-yard TD pass to Fryfogle, then went up 17-7 on Charles Campbell’s 52-yard field goal, the sixth-longest in school history. Penix added a scoring toss to tight end Peyton Hendershot for a 24-7 halftime lead.
Michigan opened the third quarter with the defensive stop it needed and the touchdown it needed — five plays, 80 yards, a 13-yard Milton TD pass.
Indiana came right back with Scott’s 1-yard touchdown run – set up by clutch Penix passes to Hendershot and Jacolby Hewitt – for a 31-14 lead late in the third quarter.
Michigan opened the fourth quarter with a Milton 21-yard touchdown pass to Ronnie Bell to make it 31-21.
The Wolverines had a chance.
Then came interceptions by Williams and Matthews, Scott’s 2-yard rushing touchdown and his you-can’t-stop-me running finale behind powerhouse blocking.
“The offensive line blocked their tails off,” Penix said. “They were huge. They were very physical. They made sure they got the job done.”
Because all the Hoosiers did, they share the Big Ten East lead, vindication in a season that was almost lost because of a pandemic.
“It’s all about believing in ourselves,” Williams said. “All we have is us. Go out there and play at a high level.”
Or, as Allen put it, “I can’t be any prouder of this team. Their toughness and grit and fight has been unbelievable. The way they play start to finish. Their buy-in.
“It’s mental toughness. It’s the weight room. It’s the way we practice.
“They believed they were the better team, and they proved it.”
Courtesy of IUHooisers.com