Indiana went to the town of Bowling Green needing a victory to potentially turn around its season.

The Hoosiers escaped with a 33-31 victory against Western Kentucky, with the offense coming alive and the defense getting just enough stops.

Following let’s take a look at the grades:

Passing offense

Tom Allen made the right call earlier in the week, deciding to stick with quarterback Michael Penix Jr. as his starter.

The veteran looked sharp against Western Kentucky, throwing for a season-high 373 yards — he nearly doubled his yardage from IU’s first 3 games — by hitting a career-high 35 completions in 53 attempts. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but also didn’t have a turnover, the latter a huge point after he’d had 7 (6 interceptions, 1 fumble) previously this season.

Penix looked like a changed player, placing the football accurately to receivers who not only made receptions but found room to pick up extra yardage. Maybe the best example of Penix’s improved timing came on a simple slant to Ty Fryfogle; the duo connected on a fourth-and-2 from the WKU 40-yard line in the second quarter. The whole operation, from snap, to drop, to delivery, to reception, looked in rhythm, something that wasn’t often true during IU’s 1-2 start. The play picked up 7 yards and a first down.

Penix’s longest completion went for only 26 yards, when he hit tight end Peyton Hendershot down the field, but he did connect on the second-level often. Six IU receivers made receptions of at least 14 yards.

Fryfogle had 98 yards on 10 receptions, while Hendershot had 94 on 6, one of his biggest games in the last couple seasons. IU also had to deal with the loss of slot man D.J. Matthews, who injured his left knee on a punt return.

Penix was sacked 3 times, and once was called for intentional grounding, each contributing to a drive stalling out, with IU settling for field goals.

Grade: B+

Rushing offense

Stephen Carr rushed with authority against WKU, going for 109 yards on 25 carries, a couple of them into the end zone for touchdowns. Carr, who has power and more athleticism than people might have previously realized, scored the Hoosiers’ first and last TDs, both on 1-yard runs.

He and backup Tim Baldwin each broke free for 21-yard rushes, as well. Their performances helped the Hoosiers control the clock, as IU held the ball for 38 minutes vs. the fast-paced Hilltoppers, converting a robust 11-of-18 third downs.

As a team, IU averaged only 3.4 yards per rush, although part of the reason for the lower-than-desired number is the sack yardage (25) to Penix. Add up only IU’s gained yardage and the average becomes 4.4.

Grade: A-

Offense overall

The Hoosiers put up 33 points with 507 yards while averaging 5.5 per snap.

Considering the problems IU had experienced in the first 3 weeks of the season, it was a huge improvement. Indiana had 4 offensive penalties: A false start, the intentional grounding, an illegal downfield block by a lineman and a delay of game.

The offense was able to run out the clock late, getting a couple Carr runs, then a nice pass from Penix to Fryfogle to set up Victory Formation.

Not sure how Indiana did it, perhaps by faking it until they could actually discover it, but the Hoosiers played with previously-missing confidence. It helped IU rediscover its offensive magic.

Grade: A-

Pass defense

WKU’s hair-on-fire offense is hard for any opponent to handle, and Indiana was no different on Saturday night.

Hilltoppers’ QB Bailey Zappe passed for 365 yards on 31-of-44 with 3 touchdown and no turnovers. He had a long of 39 and wasn’t sacked, although IU linebacker Micah McFadden got to a wide receiver for a sack on a failed trick play.

That was an excellent job by McFadden and the rest of the IU defense, which wasn’t fooled at all on WKU’s attempted throwback to the QB. McFadden attacked and other defenders noticed Zappe drifting into the opposite flat to receive the throwback. None of it worked.

IU had 7 pass breakups, including 3 by Tiawan Mullen.

Grade: C

Rush defense

The Hoosiers held the Hilltoppers’ running game, which they use only as a change-up to the passing game, in check, allowing only 93 yards on 20 attempts.

WKU did have 3 carries of at least 11 yards. But the Hoosiers had a big stand in the first half, when McFadden stuffed Adam Cofield for no gain on a third down from Indiana’s 23, then Devon Matthews smoked Kyle Robichaux for a loss of 1 on fourth down. It was a big early stop near the red zone in what turned out to be a 2-point victory.

Grade: A-

Defense overall

When playing a team like Western Kentucky, which seemingly snaps the ball every 20 seconds and tries to run as many plays as possible, it’s more about stops than yardage.

And Indiana got enough stops, getting one on an early fourth down to give the offense an extra possession, then forcing WKU into 3 other punts. Ideally, IU would have found a way to stop Western Kentucky’s final possession, ending the game with a more comfortable two-possession edge, but the Hilltoppers found the end zone on a 19-yard TD pass with less than 3 minutes left.

In all, IU gave up 458 yards and 31 points, but stopped WKU on 6-of-10 third downs and a fourth down.

Grade: B-

Special teams

Place-kicker Charles Campbell was excellent yet again, knocking in all 4 of his field goal attempts, 2 of them of at least 46 yards. He had a reprieve after a 51-yard miss, when WKU had lined up offsides. The ensuing kick was good.

James Evans punted twice, once inside the 20 and once into the end zone. Neither return game amounted to much. IU was penalized once, when a kickoff went out of bounds.

Grade: A-


Credit to Allen and the IU staff for having a reeling Indiana squad ready to play against a challenging-to-prepare-for WKU team. The 9.5-point pregame spread wasn’t a good indication of the potential challenge this game presented, and Indiana escaped with a season-saving — perhaps — victory.

And Allen stuck with Penix, and that decision paid off big.

Grade: A


Indiana scored a big win in its final non-conference game of the season before jumping back into what will be a brutal slate of Big Ten games. Next, IU travels to Penn State, then hosts Michigan State (after a bye), then hosts Ohio State and travels to Maryland and Michigan in consecutive weeks. Four of those opponents are ranked and the 5th, Maryland, is undefeated.

If Indiana gets back to the postseason, then the win at WKU might prove to be a turning point.

Grade: B+