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Three things: Indiana 56, Idaho 14

The Hoosiers bounced back from their Week 1 loss in a big way

NCAA Football: Idaho at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

In its 2021 home opener in its first-ever matchup against Idaho, Indiana rolled to a 56-14 win, getting a much-needed victory an in a convincing fashion, ahead of the Hoosiers’ home date with No. 7 Cincinnati in Week 3.

Here are three things to take away from Indiana’s win over Idaho.

Shoutout to the IU student section

Let’s be honest, the IU student section has gone through the ringer in the last decade or so. Sometimes the criticism of IU students’ attendance or their early departures has been deserved, and their greatest defense might lie in a spinoff of the chicken-or-egg question.

Does IU need to produce a winner in order for students to show up or do the students need to show up for IU to produce a winner?

Sure, improved attendance could make a difference on the field in intangible ways, but until IU produces a consistent winner, it may also be fair to ask why 18 to 22-year-olds should be expected to show up in full force at kickoff and stay for all four quarters.

Well, the student section put together what appeared to be an all-time showing on Saturday night, especially considering the opponent was an FCS foe in Idaho. Heck, the BTN broadcast showed that some students had ripped up a bleacher within the opening minute of the game.

The students brought it – the overall attendance was great, too, but the students have historically received the brunt of the criticism – and that was a tangible sign of the progress the program has made in the last two seasons, especially with fans not being permitted to attend games last season.

High-profile transfers get their flowers

You’d be hard-pressed to find many individual performances worth highlighting from IU’s Week 1 loss to Iowa and obviously with a much-needed tune-up game against Idaho in Week 2, you’d expect a much better result for the Hoosiers, both collectively and individually.

That happened, and some of IU’s high-profile transfers – who had been the recipients of significant media coverage and speculation – were among the IU players who performed the best on Saturday.

IU running back Stephen Carr, a transfer from USC who was held to 57 yards on 19 carries in Iowa City and whose only glimpses of promise came on third down, ran aggressively against Idaho, entering halftime with 81 yards and a touchdown, including a 26-yard scamper in which he added some extra yards through a nifty stutter step. It only took Carr until his first carry of the second half to break the 100-yard mark and he finished the game with 22 carries for 118 yards and a score. He was only one yard shy of his career-high, which came in his second game of his freshman season at USC.

Then there was slot receiver D.J. Matthews, who had one of the sweetest punt return touchdowns you’ll see, catching the ball over his head, benefitting from a wall of IU blockers, then finishing the job himself with a cut back and a stiff arm for an 81-yard touchdown.

Big Ten Network

He also hauled in four catches for 21 yards.

Special teams shows out

After making all of the necessary caveats about IU’s opposition, the Hoosiers put on an impressive special teams performance by scoring two touchdowns – Matthews’ punt return touchdown and Noah Pierre’s punt block, which led to a touchdown return by Javon Swinton. That was one of two punts that IU blocked on the evening, with A.J. Barner blocking another (moments after he scored on a 76-yard touchdown reception). Barner’s blocked punt set up a short field for the Hoosiers, who capitalized with a touchdown run by Davion Ervin-Poindexter.

IU threatened to score a touchdown on two other returns – Jacolby Hewitt had a 72-yard kickoff return to open the second half and Bryant Fitzgerald had a long run negated by a penalty for Ty Wise continuing to play on the return after losing his helmet.

During the BTN broadcast, analyst Matt Millen made the case in the second half that Idaho was perhaps playing better than the score suggested, due to Indiana’s non-offensive touchdowns – hmm, that argument feeling strangely familiar by I can’t place where I’ve heard that recently – and there may be at least a sliver of truth in it.

Indiana may not have performed quite as badly as its 34-6 loss to Iowa in Week 1 suggested. (And for the record, Iowa’s 27-17 win over No. 9 Iowa State in Week 2 should give the Hoosiers some level of comfort that the Hawkeyes might be very, very good.) And for as good as a 42-point win in Week 2 likely felt for Indiana’s players, coaches and fans, the Hoosiers still have room to improve.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. finished with just 68 yards and 4.3 yards per attempt on 16 attempts, while Idaho quarterback Mike Beaudry completed roughly two-thirds of his attempts, even if he, too, was throwing short oftentimes (just 5.4 yards per attempt).

It’s unlikely IU will surrender two defensive touchdowns in the same game against, just as it it’s unlikely IU will score two special teams touchdowns in a game again this season. So the Hoosiers will have to have a recipe for success that’s sustainable – an aggressive defense, a confident quarterback with bevy of receiving threats and a consistent kicker.

But for at least one night, Indiana and its fans can enjoy a dominant performance against an overmatched opponent.