BLOOMINGTON — Indiana found inspiration from a fallen teammate, and with a balanced effort on offense and big takeaway on defense, officially put its lopsided loss to Ohio State in the rearview mirror.
Redshirt junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey passed for 243 yards and three touchdowns as the Hoosiers dominated in their final non-conference game Saturday, beating Connecticut 38-3 before 40,084 at Memorial Stadium.
“Good to bounce back from last week’s performance,” IU head coach Tom Allen said. “I thought our guys responded the way I hoped they would, and the way I saw them practice all week, how we executed.”
The victory, though, came at a price. Senior left tackle Coy Cronk, making his 39th career start, went down with a leg injury early in the first quarter. IU’s entire team gathered around Cronk, one of IU’s four senior captains, before he was carted off the field.
“The O-line were the first people out there, and once they started heading out everybody was like,’you know what this is our guy,’ and so we all felt the need to do it,” Indiana senior wide receiver Nick Westbrook said. “We know how much he loves this team, how much he’s put into being a leader on this team. It really hurts.
“But now, at this point, we’re playing for him. And so this season goes out to him now. When we came in at halftime, he was casted up in a boot, in the locker room, clapping everybody up because he knew it was way bigger than just him. He’s like, ‘I’m just here for the team.’ He’s going to lead in a different role now.”
Allen did not offer a specific update on Cronk’s injury postgame.
“It doesn’t look good,” Allen said. “We’ll find out once we get all the information back.”
Even with Cronk out, Indiana (3-1) stuck with its game plan of establishing the run early to set up the pass. IU had seven runs and five passes on its first touchdown drive, which ended with a 12-yard pass from Ramsey to receiver Whop Philyor to put the Hoosiers up 7-3 with 5:01 left in the first quarter.
Indiana wound up with 252 yards passing to 178 yards rushing. Sophomore running back Stevie Scott finished with 21 carries for a season-high 97 yards and a touchdown, coming close to posting his seventh career 100-yard rushing day. Scott carried the ball 13 times in the first half and eight more times in the second half.
“With the more carries as the game goes on, I feel like that builds a rhythm for any running back,” Scott said.
Ramsey, making his second start of the season for injured quarterback Michael Penix Jr., completed 16 of 18 passes in the first half, spreading the ball to seven different receivers. After a 27-yard Logan Justus field goal put the Hoosiers up 10-3, Ramsey’s second touchdown pass of the first half, a 4-yard strike to tight end Peyton Hendershot, extended IU’s lead to 17-3 with 1:42 left in the second quarter.
Hendershot overcame a fumble which set up an early Connecticut field goal to post another solid receiving day, finishing with five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown.
“His improvement has been off the charts,” Ramsey said. “That’s a testament to how much work he’s put in and buy in. He’s got bigger, faster and stronger, so he’s a matchup nightmare for inside linebackers and safeties.”
IU received a boost from its defense in the third quarter, when sophomore linebacker Cam Jones intercepted a pass from Connecticut quarterback Jack Zergiotis and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown, extending IU’s lead to 24-3. After giving up 520 yards against Ohio State, IU’s defense was back on point, limiting the Huskies to 51 yards rushing and 145 total yards. Indiana kept pressure on Zergiotis and Connecticut’s offense throughout the game with five tackles for loss, two sacks and three quarterback hurries.
“We knew last week that wasn’t Indiana football, and that wasn’t us,” Jones said. “So this was a big statement.”
Indiana padded its lead with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Ramsey to Westbrook and a 6-yard touchdown run by Scott to extend the lead to 38-3 with 8:47 remaining. All four of Indiana’s touchdown drives went for eight plays or more as the Hoosiers went 8-for-10 on third-down conversions. Ramsey finished the game 23-of-27 passing, though his longest completion went for 25 yards.
“The starting (field) position was tough. We had a couple of unfortunate penalties on our special teams,” Allen said. “But the offense responded. They were very systematic. Peyton was extremely accurate, and that’s what he does really well. So you’ve got to play for your strength.”
From here on out, the Hoosiers will play eight straight Big Ten games, beginning next Saturday at Michigan State (3:30 p.m., BTN). The Spartans (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) picked up head coach Mark Dantonio’s school record 110th win Saturday, knocking off Northwestern 31-10.
Whether it is Ramsey or Penix under center, IU will go into the matchup confident it can win.
“It was huge just to show that we can bounce back and we have that in our repertoire,” Westbrook said. “Now we’ve just got to keep moving forward.”