BLOOMINGTON – As Indiana continues to develop as a football program in head coach Tom Allen’s third season, the next goal is to find a way to beat a ranked team.
The Hoosiers (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) will get another chance in their home finale Saturday against No. 12 Michigan.
The Wolverines (8-2, 5-2) are peaking late in the season, holding teams to an average of 10.3 points during their current three-game win streak. The stretch has included wins over No. 15 Notre Dame, Maryland and Michigan State.
Indiana came close to a signature win last Saturday at No. 9 Penn State, but a few defensive and special teams breakdowns proved costly in a 34-27 loss that ended a four-game win streak.
“You go and you play a team that’s one of the top in the country one week, and then you’ve got to go back and do it again,” Allen said. “That’s part of being in this conference.”
Indiana senior right guard Simon Stepaniak said one of IU’s goals includes beating two Top 25 teams, which could still be attainable if the Hoosiers face a Top 25 team in their bowl matchup. With the loss to Penn State, Indiana dropped to 0-3 against ranked teams this season and 0-13 against ranked teams in Allen’s three-year tenure.
“That’s still within our reach with Michigan coming in, and our bowl team that we’re going to play is probably in the Top 25 …,” Stepaniak said. “I think that’s really just setting the standard. We haven’t really changed anything for our goals. We’re really just trying to attack the ones we have.”
To pull off an upset against an opponent the caliber of Michigan, Indiana is going to need to clean up the small details. A muffed punt by junior receiver Whop Philyor and a miscommunication on a fake punt attempt that failed to yield a first down proved costly in the Penn State loss. The two special teams miscues led to 14 points for the Nittany Lions.
“Two critical errors there that hurt us for sure,” Allen said.
Another issue Indiana will look to address is shadowing the quarterback after Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford came up with some scrambles out of the pocket that extended drives. Clifford rushed 10 times for 55 yards and two touchdowns, including a 38-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Allen said the Hoosiers will work on making sure rushing lanes are closed off when pressuring the quarterback.
“That’s something we’re going to definitely work on, for sure, because those were costly,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, we just needed one more third-down stop. And there was really a couple in that last drive that were just, gosh, it was gut wrenching when you go back and watch it.”
Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said the scrambles came down to defensive players being unable to win one-on-one matchups and are correctable. Indiana will face another mobile quarterback in Michigan senior Shea Patterson, who has rushed for 508 yards and eight TDs in his career with both Ole Miss and the Wolverines.
Wommack, who first faced Patterson when he was a defensive coordinator at South Alabama in a game against Ole Miss, said Patterson is different from Clifford in that when Patterson escapes the pocket, he still keeps his eyes downfield looking to throw.
“For us, it is a complement of pressure and yet still keeping him hemmed in,” Wommack said. “He’s not 6-(foot)-4. He’s a little bit on the shorter side, so getting in his vision and keeping him out of some throwing lanes is something that’s going to be very important to what we do schematically, and certainly I’ve been facing him long enough now we kind of know what works and what doesn’t.”
Indiana will honor its senior class of 16 players before the game, including Stepaniak, who has made 29 career starts on the offensive line. But Stepaniak said his focus now is squarely on Michigan.
“All I’m really focused on right now is getting together with these guys, getting things fixed from Penn State and getting ready to attack these guys with everything we have because we want this one,” Stepaniak said.
PHILYOR IN PROTOCOL
Allen said Phliyor remains in concussion protocol after taking a blow to the head by two Penn State defenders late in the first quarter. Phliyor is IU’s leading receiver with 61 catches for 863 yards and three TDs.
“That’s a process that we’ll go through throughout the week,” Allen said. “And we’ll do a great job of being very diligent with that, in his best interests.”
Allen also said he’s waiting to hear back from the Big Ten as to why targeting was not called on the play that knocked Philyor out of the game when replays showed there was helmet-to-helmet contact.
“Those conversations have taken place, and we’re still working through that,” Allen said. “So, but, you know, I saw what you saw and so did a lot of people. So, but, that’s part of the decision making that has to take place. But we’ll go through it the right way and handle it properly.”
With Philyor out for most of the Penn State game, a pair of receivers stepped up. Junior receiver Ty Fryfogle had five catches for 131 yards and one TD, while freshman receiver David Ellis had five catches for 75 yards.
IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer was proud of how other receivers adjusted to different roles in Philyor’s absence.
“The rhythm was lost there for a series or two in the second quarter, but I thought our guys just kept working through it,” DeBoer said
BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL
Patterson may have provided some additional bulletin board material for the Hoosiers. In an interview with WXYZ Detroit sports anchor Brad Galli following Michigan’s 44-10 win over Michigan State, Patterson appeared to be looking past Indiana and ahead to Michigan’s showdown with rival No. 2 Ohio State.
“We’re gonna enjoy this win, but in the back of our minds we know we got one more big one to go,” Patterson said in the interview. “We gotta go on the road to Indiana, but our eyes are still set on the last one.”
BUCKET GAME START
Indiana announced its season finale in the Old Oaken Bucket rivalry game at Purdue on Nov. 30 will kick off at noon and air on ESPN2.