Game of inches! Indiana gets the upset in return of Big Ten football

Indiana Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (9) dives with the ball to score a two point conversion and win the game in overtime during the game at Memorial Stadium. The Indiana Hoosiers defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions 36 to 35. Photo by Marc Lebryk/ USA TODAY Sports

Peter Burtnett
Sports Editor

The Big Ten is back, and with it came the biggest upset of the 2020 college football season when Indiana shocked No. 8 Penn State.

The action got started on Friday night, when No. 14 Wisconsin thrashed Illinois 45-7, finding a solid quarterback and getting revenge against the Fighting Illini (24-23 loss last year). That QB, Graham Mertz, was 20-21 for 248 yards and 5 TDs. If that passing play can continue, Wisconsin might finally be primed to truly contend for the CFP.

Speaking of accurate QBs and CFP contenders, Big Ten pre-season, Ohio State, cruised against Nebraska in a 52-17 win. Heisman candidate Justin Fields was also 20-21, throwing for 276 yards and 2 TDs while adding 54 yards and a TD on the ground. After a quick TD drive for the Cornhuskers, the Buckeyes quickly settled in and now surge into their Halloween match-up at Penn State.

Meanwhile, fellow top-5 teams Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame (1-3; No. 4 Georgia was idle) dominated in-conference foes. Though Clemson was up just 27-21 against Syracuse, they scored 20 unanswered to win 47-21. And even in a 48-17 win over Tennessee, the Crimson Tide lost star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle to a season-ending right ankle injury suffered on the opening kickoff.

In the Big 12, a defensive battle between the conference’s top contenders for the CFP ended in a 24-21 win for No. 6 Oklahoma State over No. 17 Iowa State. With a 4-0 record (3-0 Big 12), the Cowboys are tied with new contender Kansas State (4-1, 4-0 Big 12), who they face Nov. 7 in Manhattan, Kansas.

The other ranked match-ups weren’t even close, as No. 14 North Carolina crushed No. 23 NC State 48-21, while the nightcap on ABC between No. 18 Michigan and No. 21 Minnesota ended 49-24 Michigan, even though Minnesota got the game started with a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. No. 9 Cincinnati also dissected No. 16 SMU 42-13 to make their case as the best Group of 5 team (though 6-0 No. 12 BYU may say otherwise).

Finally, the most exciting and important game between No. 8 Penn State and upset-minded Indiana, who is a program on the rise after last year’s 8-win season.

Penn State started the game with a 13-play, 64-yard TD drive, but went the next seven drives without a score (punt, INT, punt, INT, fumble, two missed FGs). Indiana took advantage, going up 17-7 at halftime.

The second half was much more balanced, and when Penn State scored an “accidental” TD – RB Devyn Ford backed into the endzone instead of going down at the one to use more time – with 1:42 left to go ahead 28-20, it looked like the upset bid was off.

However, Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. led the Hoosiers on a 7-play, 75-yard TD drive and a two-point conversion to tie the game with 22 seconds left.

A shanked squib kick gave the Nittany Lions the ball at the Indiana 49-yard-line, but even after a couple of plays set up a 57-yard field goal, the kick was missed (the third time for Penn State) and the game went into overtime.

Penn State got the ball first, and took just four plays to take the lead back at 35-28. Indiana was almost as efficient, scoring on a pass from Penix Jr. to Whop Philyor to cut the deficit to one. 

With the eye on the upset, Indiana head coach Tom Allen chose to go for it. Penix Jr. tried to find a receiver but couldn’t, scrambling toward the near sideline (FS1 feed) and pushing off with his right foot from the three-yard-line, stretching out nine feet to scratch the ball across the goal line. On a night with a stunning ending in Game 4 of the World Series, the reach for Penix Jr. was just as impressive.

With the Big Ten back and making quite the statement, here are my top 10 teams as of now (Pac-12 will be included once they begin play the weekend of Nov. 7)

  1. Alabama
  2. Clemson
  3. Ohio State
  4. Notre Dame
  5. Georgia
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Texas A&M
  9. Miami (FL)
  10. North Carolina

Next up: Cincinnati, Michigan, BYU

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