Three games into the season, a pattern is beginning to take shape for the Indiana football team.
Fall behind early, end the half in disatrous fashion, and then dominate the second half.
The Hoosiers did it again on Saturday in their biggest test of the young season, topping Western Kentucky 38-35 at Memorial Stadium. Indiana trailed 28-17 at the half. The win moves the Hoosiers to a perfect 3-0 for the first time since 2010.
Indiana outscored Western Kentucky 21-0 in the third quarter, which featured two interceptions from star WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty. Doughty, a sixth-year player, led the nation in passing yards and touchdowns a season ago. The Hoosiers have outscored their three opponents 44-0 in the third quarter this season. Indiana has trailed at halftime in all three games.
"I'd like to tell you it's something magical," said Indiana coach Kevin Wilson. "We don't go in there and yell. ... We have a strong team, physically strong. I think we're getting mentally stronger. As the game goes on, we gain a little momentum as we play. I'd like to say it's something earth shattering. It's not."
Added quarterback Nate Sudfeld: "I just think we're in good shape. I think we have a good mental approach coming out of halftime."
In a game that featured very little defense, the two 3rd quarter interceptions loomed large. Doughty hadn't turned the ball over in the team's first two games this season, and he had only 10 INTs with nearly 50 touchdown passes a season ago. Indiana turned both Doughty interceptions into touchdowns. Freshman defensive back Jonathan Crawford made both interceptions.
"He's talented. He's long, tall, has range," Wilson said. "He's got good awareness and good feel. He's a great athlete and a really good ball player."
"I've been saying it for awhile, especially in our team meetings, that Jonathan Crawford is very impressive," added Sudfeld. "He's been breaking on my out routes in practice, making me mad. I was just waiting on him to come out and let loose. It was really fun to see because that kid is going to be special. He is a gamer."
Western Kentucky (2-1) cut the Hoosiers' lead to 38-35 with 5:56 remaining in the game, but Indiana methodically marched the ball down the field on the ensuing drive to put the Hilltoppers away. Indiana ran out the clock with a kneel down from the Western Kentucky 1-yard line to end the game. Running back Jordan Howard was big on the drive and had another monster game in his first season with the Hoosiers. The UAB transfer had 203 rushing yards on 31 carries, his seventh consecutive 100-yard game.
"It was good to know, as a team, that we can have the ball in our hands and finish the game out," Sudfeld said. "It was great."
Because of the lack of defense, there were plenty of goudy offensive numbers in this one. Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld completed 20-of-27 passes for 355 yards and three touchdowns in a nearly flawless performance. Sudfeld did not throw an interception, but did lose a fumble in the first half. Perhaps Sudfeld's most important completion came on the Hoosiers' final drive of the game. On 3rd down and 9 and with just over four minutes remaining, Sudfeld found Simmie Cobbs for a 14-yard gain to keep the drive alive.
Indiana wide receiver Ricky Jones caught five passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. Cobbs caught three passes for 50 yards and a score.
In a losing effort, Doughty completed 35-of-46 passes for 484 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Indiana had 639 yards of total offense to 568 for Western Kentucky.
"I don't think we punted, so I don't think they really stopped us," said Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm. "We played hard, we just had two costly interceptions. They ran the ball at will and controlled the clock, so we didn't get many possessions. We couldn't get it done."