This morning, Facebook reminded me that four years ago, Indiana beat Penn State for the first - and only - time in the history of football. Ahh, what an innocent time that was for a surging IU football team under Kevin Wilson!
Anyway, let’s remember this incredibly silly game in which IU won 44-24.
(Still kind of jarring to see last names on the back of Penn State jerseys, by the way.)
First of all, I’ll put Indiana’s 2013 offense up against any IU offense, either of the Wilson era or before. Man, that offense was LOADED. Nate Sudfeld was the starter at QB, but you had Tre Roberson as the dual-threat change-of-pace guy. Wideouts were Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn, and Kofi Hughes. Tight end was Ted Bolser. Tevin Coleman, of course, was the running back, but even he had Stephen Houston backing him up. And while Dan Feeney spent the season redshirting, the offensive line was still beastly. In 2013, the Hoosiers averaged just over 35 points a game - and that includes the game they were held to only 3 points against Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Penn State was in the second (and final) year of head coach Bill O’Brien, and the second (and final) year of bowl sanctions from the NCAA. The Nittany Lions weren’t going to the postseason again in 2013, but after a surprise 8-4 year in 2012, they still had high expectations, especially with a freshman QB in Christian Hackenberg leading the way.
Hackenberg eventually had spotty career in State College, and along with his inability to find the field for the Jets despite being a second-round pick, it’s easy to see how this upset was possible in retrospect. And Hackenberg was a true freshman playing his first true road game that day.
If there was any day for the Hoosiers to get their first-ever victory in 17 tries against Penn State, this was the one.
It was the grayest possible October morning in Bloomington, and the game was a noon start on BTN. I almost didn’t even feel like going to this one, but as the Hoosiers kept it close early on, I decided to head over to the stadium around the end of the first quarter, when IU held a 7-0 lead.
Despite a fantastic, explosive, pinball machine of an offense, the Hoosier defense still languished. The 24 points they gave up in this game was the second-lowest total all year. Penn State still put up 410 total yards in the loss, including 340 passing yards from Hackenberg, and 173 yards and two scores from wide receiver Allen Robinson.
Going into the 4th quarter, this was a close game - IU had a slim 21-17 advantage on the Nittany Lions. That’s when things went haywire. First, Roberson came in on a third-and-goal QB sneak to put the Hoosiers up by 11. Then the defense came through, stopping Penn State on downs and giving IU great field position in Nittany Lion territory.
Here’s when things really got crazy. Two plays and 33 seconds later, Sudfeld found Hughes to make it 35-17 Hoosiers. Then, PSU fumbled a kickoff, giving Indiana the ball at the 9. Roberson punched it in on the next play from scrimmage. IU now had a 42-17 lead and had scored 14 points in 12 seconds. The Nittany Lions would score again and get the ball late, but IU sealed the victory with - of all things - a safety, after Hackenberg fumbled in the end zone.
The 2013 Indiana football season will always be one of unfulfilled promise. That offense, in Wilson’s third year as coach, was so fun and exciting, and could hang with almost any team. But that defense just kept taking the Hoosiers out of close games, and turning winnable contests such as Minnesota and Navy into heartbreaking losses. Bad timing and bad schedule luck was also a problem - who knew Missouri would become SEC East champions or that the IU’s designated Legends Division (lol) rival Michigan State would win the entire conference and finish 13-1?
Despite three B1G victories, the Hoosiers finished 5-7 and didn’t make a bowl game. The season won’t be remembered in the same way as two years later, when IU finally ended its long bowl drought and came within seconds of beating both Ohio State and Michigan. But that season also started a Bucket Game streak that continues to this day.
And, four years ago today, it was the only time in history when Indiana beat Penn State in football.