Indiana (1-2) positioned itself to potentially upset the No. 8 team in the country at home for the second season in a row but Cincinnati (3-0) picked off Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. three times, forced a Hoosiers fumble on a goal-to-go rush and scored 28 points after halftime to win 38-24 in Bloomington.
Here are three things to know from the game.
Game shifts after Micah McFadden’s ejection
With Indiana leading 14-0 late in the second quarter and Cincinnati facing 3rd-and-10, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder threw an incompletion, which would’ve resulted in a punt back to the Hoosiers with just over four minutes left in the half, but the Bearcats’ drive continued after Indiana linebacker Micah McFadden was called for targeting, which resulted in his ejection and the continuation of Cincinnati’s possession.
The Bearcats ultimately scored their first points of the game on that drive as they marched downfield on a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown. Thomas Allen, Indiana coach Tom Allen’s son, replaced McFadden in the middle of the Hoosiers’ defense, which is a part of the field where the Bearcats repeatedly capitalized on their scoring drive.
Cincinnati was held scoreless in the 26 minutes or so that McFadden was in the game and the Bearcats scored 38 points with the leader of the Hoosiers’ defense gone.
While a case could’ve been made that McFadden was blocked into Ridder – a case that Tom Allen appeared to make to the officials – the silver lining is that he’ll be back for the first half of Indiana’s road game at Western Kentucky. Since he was ejected at the very end of the first half, his absence won’t prolong after Saturday.
Penix throws costly interceptions (again)
Penix threw three interceptions against Cincinnati, including one in the end zone on 3rd-and-5 at Cincinnati’s 20-yard line. ESPN’s Tom Luginbill noted after the interception that Penix barely looked at where he was throwing, if he looked there at all.
The Hoosiers’ defense ultimately saved the day after that aforementioned pick as they forced a turnover on the Bearcats’ next possession – read: a Ryder Anderson forced fumble, which was (reforced) and ultimately recovered by McFadden – and Penix’s latter two interceptions were especially costly.
With 26 seconds left in the first half and Indiana leading 14-7 – and after a completion to Ty Fryfogle that put the ball near midfield – Penix was pressured and rather than taking the sack, he forced a throw that was intercepted by Cincinnati’s Arquon Bush. Cincinnati’s next play was a 28-yard completion and the Bearcats stole a 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-10 going into halftime.
Penix’s third and final interception of the day came with Indiana trailing 30-24 as he forced a throw across his body and across the field on 3rd-and-16, which was picked off by Cincinnati’s Deshawn Pace and returned to Indiana’s 6-yard line.
Penix’s latter two interceptions were especially damaging as they led to 14 Cincinnati points and they were throws that should’ve instead resulted in sacks or throwaways, but they were instead forced into crowded areas of the field without a clear target.
Throw in Tim Baldwin Jr.’s fumble on Cincinnati’s goal line as Indiana trailed by six and the Hoosiers repeatedly made costly, if not preventable, turnovers.
Penix finished the game 17-for-40 passing for 210 yards, one touchdown and one interception. While his receivers didn’t necessarily do him a lot of favors – Ty Fryfogle had at least three drops – Penix’s interceptions were costly and had the ESPN broadcast crew wondering if Indiana would, or should, replace him with backup Jack Tuttle on Saturday or in the future.
D.J. Matthews Jr. deserves more touches
Matthews was Indiana’s most productive receiver, hauling in five catches for 120 yards, along with two 14-yard carries, including one for a touchdown on a nifty reverse. As Fryfogle has faced issues with drops and being the clear No. 1 target for opposing defenses to take away, Matthews has offered both the receptions in the slot that Whop Philyor warranted in years past, while also being a big-play threat, like Fryfogle so often was last season.
In a crowded wide receiver room, Miles Marshall (one catch for 11 yards) hasn’t had the breakout season that he appeared poised to assume and Texas A&M transfer Camron Buckley didn’t record a single catch Saturday despite being targeted throughout the game.
Indiana needs to find more ways to get Matthews more touches – in the run game, on special teams, whatever – because his per-touch productivity is often electric, which is something many of his fellow offensive players can’t say.