BLOOMINGTON – Indiana football coach Tom Allen was unable to contain his emotion any longer.
From fielding questions about the No. 9 Hoosiers being a 21-point underdog to No. 3 Ohio State, to reflecting on his origins as a high school coach in Tampa, Florida, to discussing his son — junior linebacker Thomas Allen — going into surgery Tuesday to repair a fractured hip, Allen broke into tears.
“I love this place,” Allen said. “I love these kids. We’re going to fight, man. I don’t care what anyone says about this stinking game. We’re going to compete. We’re going to fight. And, good Lord willing, we’re gonna find a way.”
Indiana (4-0) has proven doubters wrong throughout its unbeaten start, winning as an underdog in two of its first four contests. But the Hoosiers face their toughest test of the season against an Ohio State team led by Heisman candidate quarterback Justin Fields that remains favored to win its fourth straight Big Ten title.
“When you come to Indiana and you play in this conference, you want to be a program that has the chance to win championships,” Allen said. “It has gone through Columbus here for a long, long time, so no different this year.”
It’s the first top-10 ranked matchup for Indiana since the 1968 Rose Bowl, when No. 4 Indiana fell to No. 1 USC 14-3. Both USC touchdowns were scored by future NFL Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson.
The national spotlight will shine brightly again on the Hoosiers this Saturday in a game that will featured on FOX Big Noon’s kickoff show, with a pregame remote live from Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.
“As that noise grows louder, you have to continue to stay focused on what got us here and the process of improving,” Allen said. “We are still not where we need to be, in all three areas, so to me any level of complacency that settles in or anything that prevents you from continuing to improve and prevents you from staying locked in and focused is detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish.”
Indiana has already shown it can handle ranked opponents, knocking off then No. 9 Penn State in overtime (36-35) to open the season and then No. 23 Michigan (38-21) nine days ago at Memorial Stadium. Both Penn State and Michigan have struggled, going a combined 1-7, but the wins still go down as the first two against ranked teams in Allen’s four-year tenure.
“Going into those weeks, we prepared to the extreme,” IU sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “Everyone was prepared to go out and execute. That is what we did in those big-time moments. That is all that it will take this week. We need to come out and prepare to make sure we have great practices this week. We need to play our game. We are not focused on the hype or the rankings. We are just trying to control what we can control.”
Ohio State (3-0) is coming off an unexpected bye week as its game at Maryland was canceled last Saturday due to a coronavirus outbreak involving Maryland players. The Buckeyes have been vulnerable on defense, allowing 23 points per game and 27 points in its last game, a 49-27 rout of Rutgers. Ohio State lost eight starters on defense from last season, including All-Big Ten defensive end Chase Young, who had two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss against the Hoosiers.
Indiana has held its own on the line scrimmage in its first four games, but Ohio State’s depth and physicality up front will provide an even greater test for the Hoosiers. Last season, the Buckeyes dominated the Hoosiers in a 51-10 win at Memorial Stadium, though two key performers from that game are no longer on Ohio State’s roster. J.K. Dobbins, who had 193 yards rushing and one TD, is now a rookie running back with the Baltimore Ravens while Young is a rookie defensive lineman on the Washington Football Team.
“To me, that is what this is about, is opportunity for our offensive line to elevate their game, elevate their level of execution and physicality against one of the best in the country,” Allen said. “That is definitely a huge portion of this, and it is going to be true on both sides of the football. Our defensive line versus their offensive line and their D-line versus ours. That is the matchup that will probably be at the focal point of both sides of the ball’s success.”
Allen confirmed the leg injury his son sustained against Michigan State was season ending. The younger Allen was carted off the field during the third quarter after injuring his hip when it turned sideways after a Spartans player fell on top of him.
“I guess if you want to explain it, it’s kind of similar to the Tua (Tagovailoa) injury, the quarterback at Alabama now playing with the Dolphins,” Allen said.
Allen said he’s hopeful to have starting left guard Mike Katic for Ohio State but didn’t offer an update for starting left tackle Caleb Jones, who sat out the Michigan State game for undisclosed reasons. Sophomore running back David Ellis saw his first action against Michigan State after sitting out the first three games with a lower leg injury and had two catches for 8 yards on jet sweep, pitch plays.
“David, he’s a guy that’s an important part of our offense and really, really talented,” Allen said. “We’re hoping to get him back a little bit more each time he plays and get him a little more involved as he continues to grow in his health and his ability to feel back to 100%.”
Senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle was named Big Ten offensive player of the week after recording 11 catches for 200 yards and two TDs during IU’s 24-0 win over Michigan State.
Fryfogle’s 178 first-half receiving yards against the Spartans marked the most by a Big Ten player since Michigan’s Roy Roundtree in 2010. His 200 receiving yards were the most for an Indiana receiver since Ricky Jones finished with 208 yards against Wake Forest on Sept. 24, 2016.
Fryfogle leads the Big Ten in receiving yardage, averaging 17.7 yards per catch with 24 catches for 424 yards and four TDs.