BY MICHAEL MAROT
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. —
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien kept gambling Saturday.
When the bets didn’t pay off, the Nittany Lions eventually folded.
Indiana took advantage of Penn State’s failed fourth-and-2 pass at its own 33 by scoring two touchdowns in 12 seconds to turn a close game into a 44-24 blowout – the first win for the Hoosiers in 17 tries over the Nittany Lions.
“I felt like we needed a touchdown, and we had to try to make something happen,” O’Brien said. “I was trying to manufacture a little bit of momentum there and it didn’t work out.”
And it came at a big price.
The Hoosiers (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) batted down Christian Hackenberg’s pass at the line of scrimmage. Two plays after that, Kofi Hughes made a beautiful over-the-shoulder, sliding catch for a 36-yard TD that gave Indiana a 35-17 lead. Eugene Lewis then fumbled away the kickoff at the Penn State 9-yard line and on the next play Tre Roberson scored on a quarterback keeper around the left side.
It was a dismal day for Penn State (3-2, 0-1) in soggy Bloomington – and not just because of the ramifications of that missed fourth-down call – one of three times Penn State failed on a fourth-down try.
The Nittany Lions also botched a snap on a field-goal attempt, had another attempt blocked, nearly sent another snap over the punter’s head, lost one fumble on a kickoff and another in their own end zone that turned into a late safety.
Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg wound up 30 of 55 for 340 yards passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions, breaking Kerry Collins’ single-game record for attempts, but was under duress much of the fourth quarter. Allen Robinson caught 12 passes, the second-most in school history, for 173 yards and two scores as he moved from 12th to seventh on the school’s career receptions list and into a fifth-place tie on the school’s career TD receptions list.
But the Hoosiers simply played better.
Sudfeld threw two touchdown passes, Roberson ran for two more scores and the Hoosiers ended a 16-game losing streak in the series, which dated to 1993.
Indiana won its Big Ten opener for the first time since 2000, closed the longest opening home stand (five games) in school history with a winning record and hoisted the victory flag on the nation’s tallest flagpole before hitting the road for their first two road games.
“It’s a big win,” Roberson said. “This IU 2013 team is in the history books.”
Fans celebrated with a loud roar as the clock ran out and an even louder roar when the final score was announced on the public-address system, though Indiana’s players took a more traditional tack.
They walked across the field to shake hands with Penn State (3-2, 0-1), then returned to the student section to pump their helmets as they sung the school fight song before jogging back to the locker room.
But this was not just another win, though.
Eight times since 2002, the Hoosiers have won fewer than two games in conference play. Now they have seven chances to distance themselves from that mark, and the team that showed up Saturday looked like a drastically different one from before the bye week.
Even the much-maligned Hoosiers defense did its part.
After allowing 32.8 points and ranking 115th out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams against the run (247.8 yards) through five games, the Hoosiers held Penn State to its second-lowest point total of the season and just 70 yards rushing on 38 carries.
Sudfeld played the entire first half, helping the Hoosiers build a 13-7 halftime lead, and then drove Indiana to the go-ahead score midway through the third quarter before occasionally turning things over to Roberson.
The junior wasted no time becoming a factor. He got into the end zone the first three times he touched the ball –on a 2-point conversion run that made 21-14, on a 2-yard TD run that finally gave the crowd hope the Hoosiers might finally win and on a resounding 9-yard TD run that all but sealed the game with
10 1⁄2 minutes to go.
Tevin Coleman rushed 20 times for 92 yards, including the 44-yard TD run that gave Indiana the lead for good midway through the third quarter. Cody Latimer caught nine passes for 140 yards, his third consecutive 100-yard game.
To Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, though, only one thing mattered.
“We have got to win games like this and we are a good enough team to do that,” Wilson said. “We don’t get wrapped up in it (the streak). I think our guys are best if we just keep things simple and work day-by-day, going over things we need to do short term and not look at the big picture. That being said, we have to win games like this.”