By Lew Freedman | The Tribune
Compared to last week’s game film, Indiana’s newest movie production will be an Oscar nominee.
When the Hoosiers were thumped by Iowa in their opening game, coach Tom Allen said the room was somber when the lights came on following the review. After Saturday night’s crushing of Idaho, 56-14, the players will probably plead to watch more.
The performance at Memorial Stadium in a first-time meeting between the teams, and the first crowd of note in two seasons, was one long highlight reel bolstered by an ensemble cast.
It was enough to wash away the sour taste of the 34-6 defeat to Iowa, at least for now, and revive the bonhomie within the team. After a pandemic-disrupted season that permitted just family members to watch games in person, 47,417 were counted, spectators came to campus to tailgate, barbecue and see football up close.
The Hoosiers provided a worthy show, leading 21-0 after the first quarter in their first-ever contest against a Big Sky Conference team and 35-7 at the half. IU was scoring so quickly, it raised the specter of a running clock in the second half the way routs in high school ball are shortened.
“Just proud of our guys,” said coach Tom Allen, whose squad is 1-1 looking ahead to a challenging Saturday match-up versus Cincinnati. “It was a tough loss last week and to be able to bounce back from that and regroup…”
Forget basic Xs and Os, Indiana flipped to the page in the playbook where it reads “Big play,” and never left it.
D.J. Matthews, Jr. ran a punt back 81 yards for a score, Javon Swinton scored on a blocked punt and also caught a 9-yard Michael Penix Jr. pass for a TD. Linebacker Micah McFadden’s quarterback sack prompted a fumble recovered by defensive tackle Weston Kramer.
Penix, who looked out of sorts against Iowa after coming back from a 2020 season-ending knee injury, did not have flashy stats (11-16 for 68 yards, 2 touchdowns) and even gave way late to back-up Jack Tuttle (who had his own 76-yard touchdown heave to A.J. Barner). But Penix seemed more like his own all-star self.
“I thought it was a really good next step,” Allen said.
In the early going, the Hoosier defense did not allow the Vandals (1-1) to take a single unmolested step, stuffing the run game, bottling up the passing game and then overwhelming the visitors — who were paid $1.2 million to travel to Indiana for this contest — on special teams.
Special teams is a generic football term revolving around the kicking game, but this time the word special applied in more than one way. Noah Pierre blocked Caleb Lightbourn’s punt in the second period and Swinton ran it in 4 yards. Later, Barner blocked another punt.
Idaho coach Paul Petrino was searching for Excedrin relief when he discussed the impact of special teams.
“Special teams was not good,” Petrino said. “Not good at all. They scored 21 points on special teams.”
Usually, a single touchdown produced by special teams, never mind three, can be a game difference-maker.
Penix’s statistics were as pedestrian as they were because Indiana only needed his arm in select situations. Penix scored on the ground himself, but main running back Stephen Carr, a graduate transfer from Southern Cal, turned in his first impact game.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Carr rushed for 118 yards and the team’s first touchdown of the season in the first quarter.
“We got me in a good rhythm,” said Carr, who carried 22 times and established the ground game early with his thrusts. “I think the offensive line got into a good rhythm. I think it helps perk the team up also to be a good rhythm.”
So does a defense being sharp, which it was not in the first half versus Iowa. This time the defense was swarming early. Idaho did not gain a first down until the closing minutes of the first half.
“We started out really fast,” said McFadden. “We were ready to dominate our opponent. The guys played hard. We showed up ready.”
The Vandals never produced much rushing (65 yards). The only progress made came through the passing game (196 yards and two TDs from quarterback Mike Beudry, who found end Hayden Hatten 10 times for 94 yards.
Allen gushed about the fans being able to see all the good stuff, and so did some of the players, including Matthews, who brought them out of their seats with his shifty punt return.
“It was nice having fans back,” Matthews said. “It was just nice coming out playing in front of Indiana.”
Unless you were from Idaho.