BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The fireworks, man, the fireworks. Supposedly Indiana athletic director Fred Glass really likes them. On Saturday, they tested the fireworks before the game. They shot them into the sky during the national anthem. Between quarters they did the same, and they also shot fireworks every time Indiana scored, which would become a rather frequent occurrence.
They fired them off at the end, too. Indiana defeated Penn State, 44-24, Saturday in a Big Ten Conference game, and a reddish hue exploded into the gray afternoon sky a final time, because this actually happened -- the first victory against Penn State in program history. In 16 games over a stretch of 20 years, Indiana (3-2, 1-0) had not done anything against Penn State (3-2, 0-1) worthy of celebrating with a firework, much less a roman candle or even a sparkler.
"I told them in the locker room, 'This is a tough day,' Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "You come here and lose, and give Indiana a lot of credit. They played much better than us. They coached much better than us."
Historically, Indiana is as awful as it gets in major college football. It has made nine bowl games in about 120 years. In 2003, when Penn State had its worst team in the span that it has played Indiana, the Nittany Lions still won, 52-7, against the Hoosiers.
Yet on Saturday, Penn State lost to a team that has lost this year to Navy and gotten blown out by Missouri. The flaw most apparent in those losses for Indiana was its rushing defense. The Hoosiers gave up 247.8 rushing yards a game in their first four games.
Early on, Penn State tried to establish the run. The Nittany Lions ran the ball 14 times and gained 24 yards in the first quarter. Even dismissing the 31 yards subtracted from the net because of a bad field-goal snap, they still averaged less than 4 yards per carry. They ran 20 times in the second quarter for 52 yards, an average of less than 3 yards per carry. By the end, Penn State was passing more, much more. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg's 55 attempts were a school record.
O'Brien said he thought his team's offensive line was good enough to handle Indiana's defensive front the way other teams had this year. He said he needed to scheme better. Linemen John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach gave Indiana credit for stuffing the box but acknowledged the need for improvement on their part.
"We like to set up the run so then we can pass, and that would've helped us win the game," Dieffenbach said. "And we didn't. So we can obviously do a better job up front."
Plenty of the classic, ominous signs of upsets lingered throughout. There was ugly weather, mishaps on two Penn State field-goal attempts and generally decent play by Indiana. Then everything boiled over at the start of the fourth. At this point, Penn State trailed, 21-17. Then Tre Roberson scored a rushing touchdown to complete a 75-yard scoring drive. After Penn State failed to convert a fourth down deep in its territory that O'Brien said he attempted because he wanted to gain momentum, Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Kofi Hughes. Geno Lewis fumbled the ensuing kickoff return, and Indiana scored again.
That's three touchdowns in four minutes, the lightning brand of offense coach Kevin Wilson pines for. Indiana finished with 486 total yards, nearly 60 under its average, but certainly enough because of its defense and the Penn State miscues.
In Wilson's first two seasons Indiana won two Big Ten games. Nobody knows if this year will mark some kind of coming of age for his team. It's possible that in a few weeks fans will look back on this game as the start to a successful Big Ten season for Indiana and a reasonable loss for Penn State.
All Penn State knows now is that this hurts. This is bad. In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the bench was dejected. Their chatter all but nonexistent, the players watched the remainder of the game with looks on their faces as sullen as the sky.
Their demeanor conveyed gloominess and anger. It was a different, unique expression. How best to describe it? Well, they looked like they had just lost to Indiana.
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-439-3791. Twitter: @mdent05. First Published October 5, 2013 5:45 PM