Quarterback Richard Lagow threw for 240 yards and accounted for two touchdowns and Rashard Fant and Tegray Scales both had pick-sixes to help the Hoosiers to a 34-13 season-opening victory over Florida International Thursday at FIU Stadium.
How it Happened
Florida International (0-1) took the ball to open the game and immediately began marching down the field, converting a fourth down inside the Indiana (1-0) 15-yard line before stalling. The 12-play, 64-yard drive ate up the first 5:20 of the game and ended with just a 29-yard field goal to give FIU an early lead. The score could have been averted as the IU defense forced what appeared to be a fourth down at its own 37 when Scales sacked Panther quarterback Alex McGough. In making the tackle, however, the linebacker ripped off McGough's helmet, leading to a facemask penalty and setting FIU up with a first down at the IU 23.
Special teams came into play for IU almost immediately as their ensuing drive ended with punter Joseph Gedeon booting one that bounced out of bounds at the Panther 1-yard line, pinning Florida International with its back to the wall. It was a spot the Panthers would not be able to extricate themselves from as on the first play following the punt, offensive holding was called in the endzone, resulting in a safety for the Hoosiers.
The offense took the ball following the safety and began gashing the Panther defense on the running of tailback Devine Redding. The bruising back carried the ball seven times for 43 yards on the drive, including a 19-yard scamper on a 4th-and-1 from the FIU 45. The drive stalled inside the Panther 10-yard line but kicker Griffin Oakes booted a 22-yard field goal to stake IU to its first lead of the season, 5-3.
Oakes would get another chance to put points on the board early in the second quarter, when IU moved down the field thanks to a pair of 26-yard completions from Lagow. This time Oakes's attempt came from 26 yards but it missed and left Florida International with the ball at its own 20.
Just two plays after the missed kick, the IU defense stepped up in a big way. From his own 25, McGough dropped back and tried to hit a wideout with a curl pattern to the right side. There was a miscommunication, however, and the receiver didn't turn until several yards further downfield. The ball instead found its way to junior corner Rashard Fant, who had undercut the route. Once he had it, there was nothing but green in front of him and he took it 34 yards back for Indiana's first touchdown of the season, with 13 minutes left in the first half. It was Fant's second career interception, and second in the last two games after he had one in the bowl game against Duke last season.
Despite the miscue, McGough, who is in his third season as a starter, showed a veteran's poise, refusing to be ruffled and coming out firing immediately after getting the ball back. On the FIU 46, the junior signal-caller faded back and lofted a perfectly-thrown pass down the right sideline into the waiting arms of wideout Stantley Thomas who had beaten IU corner Tyler Green on the outside. The play was good for 40 yards and set up the Panthers up inside the Hoosier 15. Five plays later, running back Alex Gardner punched the ball in from the 1-yard line for an FIU touchdown, bringing the Panthers back within two at 12-10 with just over 10 minutes to play in the half.
The rest of the half was something IU fans who have been watching over the last few years might not be used to: a defensive struggle. Indiana allowed just one first down for the final 10 minutes of the half, but the offense was unable to take advantage, punting twice itself. IU went into the half having not scored an offensive touchdown but leading 12-10 thanks to Fant's big play and the defense as a whole allowing just 152 yards of total Panther offense.
The second half began with the Indiana offense trying to recapture the formula that allowed it to move down the field efficiently early in the first session. A steady diet of Redding and change-of-pace back Mike Majette moved the ball into FIU territory. There, however, Redding took the ball on an end run and cut back upfield. As he went down after a five-yard gain, the ball was just jarred loose and the Panthers recovered, Indiana's first turnover of the season.
The game continued as a defensive stalemate until the late stages of the third quarter. Then, IU began moving the ball once again, with Majette carrying three times for 16 yards and a personal foul penalty against the Panthers turned a 13-yard completion from Lagow to wideout Nick Westbrook into a 28-yard gain. Once again, however, Indiana made an unforced error that kept it from scoring. This time, holder Mitchell Paige bobbled the snap on an Oakes field goal attempt and had to desperately heave a throw that fell incomplete, handing the ball back to FIU.
This time, the Panthers took advantage of the IU mistake. The big play came on the first snap of the ensuing drive as McGough once again found Thomas on a nearly identical pass as the earlier long completion. The connection was good for 45 yards down the right sideline, moving the ball to the IU 30. On the next play, McGough hit Gardner for a 22-yard gain out of the backfield, down to the IU 8. The Indiana defense stiffened from there but the damage had been done and a 29-yard field goal pushed the Panthers back in front at 13-12 as the third quarter ended.
The IU offense seemed to wake up after falling behind and it owned the fourth quarter. After scoring just three points on its first 54 plays, the Hoosiers stormed down the field with a series of a big plays early in the final quarter. Paige atoned for his earlier holding miscue with a 28-yard catch to move the ball into Panther territory. From there, playing at a light-speed pace, IU gashed its way into the end zone, as an 11-yard run from Redding preceded a 21-yard touchdown pass from Lagow to tight end Danny Friend.
It was the first score for both Lagow and Friend in their IU careers and it was a simple pitch-and-catch as Friend got lost behind the FIU secondary. The score vaulted IU back in front and the Crimson and Cream added a couple more points when receiver Ricky Jones Jr. took a reverse pitch on a two-point conversion attempt and sprinted into the end zone. That made the score 20-13 in favor of the Hoosiers with 12:55 to play.
The Indiana defense came through once again on the following drive and the Hoosiers' offense took over at its own 20 with 10:44 left looking to put the game away with another score. Three straight impressive runs from Redding, for a total of 23 yards opened the drive and got IU moving. Later, a perfectly-timed screen pass to Majette went for 28 yards and set the Hoosiers up at the FIU 10. Two plays after that, Lagow made a good decision on a read-option play, deciding to keep the ball himself, and ran around the left side of the line untouched for a six-yard touchdown. The 80-yard march took nine plays and sliced over four minutes off the clock, setting FIU up with the daunting task of overcoming a 27-13 deficit with under seven minutes to play.
The IU defense gave the desperate Panthers nothing in the game's final stages. The game-sealing play came at the 3:57 mark when the Hoosier pass rush flushed McGough out of the pocket and caused him to overthrow his intended receiver. Scales was waiting there, intercepting the pass and breaking a tackle en route to IU's second pick-six of the night. Those two interception returns for touchdowns came after the defense had not had any since a Tony Fields score against Wake Forest in Week 4 of last season.
Player of the Game
Richard Lagow has traveled a long road in his college football career but if tonight is any indication, he might have finally found a home at Indiana. The junior QB had a solid if unspectacular game, playing a much better second half after some apparent nerves early. He completed 18 of 27 throws for 240 yards and a score, in addition to his rushing touchdown. The passes were mostly of the short and intermediate variety, allowing Lagow to get into a rhythm and make quick reads. It wasn't a Nate Sudfeld-like game but it was plenty good and should assuage many of the fears of IU fans after a long quarterback battle in the offseason.
The Hoosiers opened the season with a win on the road for the first time since a victory over Central Michigan in 2005...The game was the second in a home-and-home series between the two teams; IU started the set with a 36-22 victory in Bloomington in 2015...Indiana returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game for the first time since 1966...Redding had a good performance in his first game as the undisputed no. 1 running back on the depth chart, gaining 142 yards on 23 carries; it was his fourth straight 100-yard game going back to last season, a streak which accounts for his entire career total of such games...In addition to the pick-sixes, the IU defense was dominant much of the night under new coordinator Tom Allen; the Hoosiers allowed just 331 total yards and 16 first downs, both well below last season's averages...Several players, including starting receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. and senior DT Ralph Green were suspended prior to the game and did not participate.
The Hoosiers are back in action for an in-state clash on Saturday, Sept. 10 against the Ball State Cardinals. The contest will kickoff at 4 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on ESPN News. It will be the home opener for the Hoosiers, who will face a Ball State team coming off an opening week game against Georgia State. The Hoosiers and Cardinals last squared off in 2012, when BSU pulled off a 41-39 upset at Memorial Stadium.