Indiana football: My 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season
The Hoosiers had its most memorable season in the last several decades — and maybe all-time.
Yes, it ended with a thud, a loss in the Outback Bowl, but the journey there was often thrilling. So let’s take a look back.
Here are my 10 favorite moments from the 2020 season:
When Micah McFadden picked off Taulia Tagovailoa early in the fourth quarter of Indiana’s win over Maryland Nov. 28, it might not have been any more remarkable than any of the other 16 INTs the Hoosiers collected in 2020. But it was notable.
The interception was the third of the game for the Hoosiers, marking a somewhat unbelievable streak; it was the third consecutive game in which IU had 3 interceptions, believed to be a program record. In four games this season, the Hoosiers picked off 3 passes, a reason why Indiana had 17 for the year, the second-most in the country, only one behind Georgia Southern (which did so in five more games).
9. Tuttle’s takeover
Indiana didn’t want Jack Tuttle to play this season. No offense to the sophomore backup, but the Hoosiers were riding starter Michael Penix Jr., one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the Big Ten. But when Penix went down against Maryland with another knee injury, similar to his first one 2 seasons ago, IU turned to Tuttle.
The second-year Hoosier finished out the game vs. the Terrapins, then faced a big hurdle the next week, as the Hoosiers went on the road to face Wisconsin, a program that had not only beaten them but pummeled them over the last half dozen games. But Tuttle was steady in his first career start, throwing for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Hoosiers first win in Madison since 2001.
8. Back to a bowl
It wasn’t where the Hoosiers wanted to end up, on the outside of a New Year’s 6 bowl game, but going to the Outback Bowl was a highlight (at least until the game started). It marked the second consecutive season in which Indiana went to the postseason, a solid progression for Tom Allen’s desire to build a program rather than just a team. As for the game … well, that wasn’t pretty. The Hoosiers played their worst game of the year — and it wasn’t even close — in falling to sub-.500 Ole Miss on Jan. 2.
7. No. 12
The loss, however, dropped the Hoosiers in the final AP poll of the season, but they still finished among their top positions in program history. At No. 12, it was the first time Indiana was ranked in the final poll since finishing No. 20 at the end of the 1988 season. And this season’s final ranking was the highest since the Hoosiers finished 4th in 1967. Indiana was also ranked in 10 consecutive polls this season, setting a program record.
6. Coaching honors
The Big Ten recognized the job Allen did this season, naming him the conference’s coach of the year. It’s deserved, considering the Hoosiers finished 6-2, probably the surprise team in all of the league. Arguably, IU was the Big Ten’s second-best team and the one most likely to knock off frontrunner Ohio State. National recognition for Allen’s performance this season was also more than warranted, and he was so honored by being named the 2020 Werner Ladder AFCA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) National Coach of the Year. Allen was also a finalist for just about every major national coach of the year award.
5. Michigan beatdown
If there was one haunt bigger than all the others, it was that of Michigan. The Wolverines had been a menace to the Hoosiers, having won 24 consecutive games dating to 1987 and 39 of the last 40. But that was irrelevant to this season’s Indiana squad.
Instead, the Hoosiers dominated, beating No. 25 Michigan 38-21 while winning in nearly every category, from total yards (460-357) to rushing yards (118-13) to time of possession (39 minutes to 21). Even though Michigan was down this season, the win marked an arrival of sorts for the Hoosiers, showing that Indiana could beat a traditional power in the Big Ten, and not only beat them but beat them up.
4. 200 x 2
During his first three seasons at Indiana, Ty Fryfogle had been a solid but not necessarily spectacular player for the Hoosiers. He took it to another level in 2020, becoming one of the biggest big-play receivers in a receiver-deep Big Ten.
The senior — he’s already stated he’ll return for an extra season in 2021 — did something no other receiver had ever done in the Big Ten. In back-to-back games against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Lucedale, Miss., native had 200-yard receiving games — and was twice the Big Ten offensive player of the week. Against the Spartans, he had 11 receptions for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, then followed that with 7 catches for 218 yards and 3 scores vs. Ohio State. Fryfogle parlayed the great games, and a great season, into being named the Big Ten Receiver of the Year.
3. The defense rests
It’s a daring move, to let the other team score. But against Penn State in the opener, Allen was left with pretty much no other choice. Down 21-20 with less than 2 minutes to go, Allen instructed his defense to let the Nittany Lions into the end zone, and PSU obliged, when Devyn Ford ran 14 unmolested yards for a touchdown. It gave IU an opening, because the Hoosiers got the ball back down by eight with 1:42 remaining.
The scheme worked, as Penix drove Indiana into scoring position, rushing in for the touchdown then doing the same for the 2-point conversion to tie. The Hoosiers went on to win in overtime. At the time Penn State had the ball up by 1 near the end of regulation, the Nittany Lions had a better than 99 percent chance of winning. But Allen took a risk that paid off big.
2. What a rally
The Hoosiers hadn’t played on a bigger stage in decades, and for a half against No. 3 Ohio State at the Shoe it all seemed overwhelming. But their backs against the wall, down 28-7 at the half, the Hoosiers responded in the final 30 minutes.
Penix was at his best, dealing to his big-play receivers, while the defense kept getting stops and turnovers to give IU a chance to rally. And it did, climbing to within a touchdown with the ball in the final minutes. The Hoosiers couldn’t complete the comeback — the offense stalled out — but they gave the Buckeyes all they could handle, perhaps challenging the eventual national runners-up more than anyone else (outside of Alabama, of course) this season.
In a way, the Hoosiers proved more in the loss than they had in any of their previous wins, showing that they could share the big stage.
1. The Stretch
The Hoosiers wanted the win. Having already made a series of smart moves just to get the season-opener vs. then-No. 7 Penn State into overtime, Allen wasn’t about to let the game extend any longer. So down 35-28 in OT, he made the decision: If his offense scored, he’d go for 2 and the victory.
It played out how he wanted, although with a little more drama than desired.
After hitting Whop Philyor on a 9-yard touchdown to draw the Hoosiers within 1, Penix lined IU up for the conversion. But after the snap, his primary pass options were covered, so the fleet-footed QB took off, sprinting toward the left pylon. At the last moment, knowing it was win or lose, Penix put the ball in his right hand and dove with the ball extended — officials decided in real time and on replay — crossing the goal line before hitting the ground. The conversion was good. For IU, it marked its first win over a top-10 opponent since 1987, but perhaps bigger than that gave the Hoosiers the confidence to turn in a season for the ages.