With the way Indiana’s season has gone, it would have been easy to mentally check out by now.
The Hoosiers now need to win out to make a bowl game, and frankly, for most of the season, they haven’t looked like a bowl-caliber team. IU has looked like a broken program for the majority of the year. Players have insisted the team is staying together despite the rough season and the current four-game losing streak, but lopsided losses continued piling up.
But Saturday, if only for one game, the Hoosiers showed fight. It’s not something they’ve shown often this year, but they found it at No. 10 Penn State.
Now, the result still didn’t go IU’s way. That was expected against a strong team like the Nittany Lions. But the Hoosiers played well enough to win the game, for the most part, and that’s not a phrase that’s described them in most of their games this year.
“As the season wears on and you have some losses that mount on you a little bit, it can get discouraging. But I can’t let these guys get discouraged. I can’t let them doubt themselves. I can’t let them fall into that trap,” IU head coach Tom Allen said. “But you know what, we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to execute at a high level. We don’t have a lot of margin for error against a team like this, for sure. But I was proud of our guys. They responded. And that means a lot to me. That shows me a lot about the guys in that room. The way they battle. It wasn’t like they just played good for a quarter. They played their tails off, the whole game.”
The game seemed to be following a familiar script. Indiana started well, let the other team back in the game and gave up the lead, and then the floodgates would open. That’s how it’s gone each of the last two weeks, in different ways.
But IU had so many chances to crack, and the players never really did.
Brendan Sorsby threw an interception near the end of the first half, a play he just did not read well, that led to Penn State’s go-ahead field goal as time expired. The Nittany Lions started the second half on offense, and put together a strong touchdown drive to make it 24-14. And IU responded with its best drive of the game at that point — but it still ended without points, as Chris Freeman missed a 37-yard field goal.
That sort of sequence, on so many days, has broken Indiana and jolted the opponent to run away with the game. But not here. IU’s defense immediately pitched a three-and-out, and then IU responded with a huge touchdown drive.
Allen said Indiana can look at those two long drives the coming week and grow from there.
“There absolutely is (something to build off of). And I’m going to choose to approach it that way,” Allen said. “I do think it always starts up front, offensively, we did run the football more effectively, and that’s huge. It takes pressure off our quarterback, takes pressure off the throw game and keeps you out of those 3rd-and-7-plus situations, which are hard against really good teams, especially. So there’s no doubt we’re going to build off of that.”
A promising outing
Sorsby’s interception was his biggest mistake of the day, and he wasn’t perfect even outside of that. But with so much uncertainty and constant change at quarterback this year for IU, Sorsby’s overall performance has to be encouraging.
His numbers are a bit deceiving, with 269 total yards, but 159 of them came from his two long first-half touchdown passes. But still, completing 13 of 19 pass attempts is his most efficient performance of the season. Sorsby’s shown some crafty playmaking ability that can be a real asset to the offense when something else breaks down. He made a terrific recovery after a bad snap on an important 4th and 3 in the second quarter, and gave Trent Howland a chance to make a play.
Sorsby also looked strong in the running game again. He finished with -3 yards on 12 attempts, but that factors in 37 yards lost on Penn State’s three sacks. So, really, he rushed for 34 yards on nine attempts. He’s unafraid of contact when he takes off, which is leading to him taking more hits than necessary. He came off holding his shoulder in the fourth quarter after lowering it to drive through a defender on a run. But his running ability is giving IU a nice safety net on passing plays.
Maybe the biggest takeaway for Sorsby is that he simply looked the part of a starting quarterback. And IU hasn’t been able to say that very often this season. It’s the first time it’s applied to Sorsby. The only other occasions IU has been able to feel that good about its quarterback play was Tayven Jackson’s performance against Indiana State — an FCS opponent — and in the second half against Louisville.
Sorsby, after, said his shoulder hurts a little but will be fine. And he credited his teammates and offensive coordinator Rod Carey for helping him play well.
“I felt really comfortable out there this week,” Felt like coach Carey called a great game.. I felt like the O-line and receivers did a great job helping me out, running backs ran the ball really well. It’s easy to look good when everybody else around you is playing really well.”