Richard Lagow threw three touchdown passes, including two to receiver Nick Westbrook and the Indiana defense forced three turnovers to help the Hoosiers to a 30-20 win over Ball State Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington that wasn't as close as the final score indicated.
How it happened
The game began with a bang for the Indiana defense. With the Cardinals (1-1) facing a 3rd-and-6 at their own 14, quarterback Riley Neal completed a pass to wideout Corey Lacanaria for a first down. As he was fighting for extra yardage, however, IU's Marcus Oliver stripped Lacanaria and defensive back Jonathan Crawford pounced on the ball just before it could bounce out of bounds at the BSU 26, giving Indiana an early big play.
The Hoosiers' (2-0) offense moved the ball down to the Ball State 4-yard line in short order but a costly personal foul penalty against offensive lineman Dimitric Camiel backed them up. IU played it safe from there, giving kicker Griffin Oakes an opportunity to boot a 29-yard field goal that put IU in front 3-0 with 11:13 to play in the opening quarter.
It didn't take long for Indiana to atone for its missed opportunity on the opening possession. After the Hoosiers' defense forced a BSU 3-and-out the offense began marching down the field. Three straight touches for running back Devine Redding went for a total of 23 yards moved the ball into Cardinal territory at the 43. From there, Lagow aired it out over the middle for Westbrook. The pass was slightly overthrown but Westbrook made a good sprawling catch as he dove across the goal line for a touchdown.
The play was notable for a number of reasons, as the offensive line gave Lagow all day to throw with a tremendous push and Westbrook beat his man by two full steps downfield. It was the second career TD reception for the sophomore wideout from Lake Mary, Florida.
Ball State settled down on the ensuing drive and began to move the ball for the first time. Lacanaria made up for his earlier miscue with a 33-yard catch and five plays later BSU was on the IU 5. From there, however, the defense's newfound penchant for big turnovers showed itself again. Running back James Gilbert ran up the middle and this time it was Tegray Scales stripping the ball while Crawford was once again in the right place at the right time to scoop it up and deny Ball State a momentum-turning score.
Indiana's offense couldn't get anything going after the turnover this time, though, and Ball State took over near the end of the first quarter. Once again, the Cardinals began moving the ball, punching it down to the Indiana 35, where they faced a 4th-and-3. Once more, IU's defense stepped up as corner Rashard Fant broke up a Neal pass to give the Hoosiers the ball back. The first quarter ended with IU ahead 10-0.
The two offenses sputtered in the second stanza as each team punted twice to open the quarter. With five minutes left in the half, however, Indiana got a jolt from change-of-pace running back Mike Majette. From his own 12, the sophomore took a handoff and burst through a hole for a 48-yard gain, the longest run of his career as a Hoosier. From there the offense started clicking and four plays later Lagow showed off his arm strength with an absolute bullet pass over the middle to sophomore wideout Luke Timian, a former walk-on, for a 10-yard touchdown. The extra point boosted IU's lead to 17-0 with 3:42 left in the first half.
The situation got even better for Indiana on the following BSU possession. On first down, Neal aired the ball out deep downfield but the play was well-covered and freshman Marcelino Ball came down with his first career interception at the IU 35.
Another freshman got in the action on IU's final possession of the half as running back Devonte Williams carried four times for a total of 20 yards to move the ball into Cardinal territory as the clock wound down. On the final play of the half, Oakes drilled an impressive 49-yard field goal to stake Indiana to a 20-0 advantage at the intermission.
The Hoosiers took the ball to start the second half looking to put the game away early and they did just that. On the second play of the drive, from the IU 21, Lagow faked a handoff up the middle and threw a swing pass to Westbrook on the outside. Apparently the fake worked because Westbrook turned upfield and had nothing but green in front him, racing for a 79-yard TD and a 27-0 Indiana lead early in the third quarter. It was the longest IU touchdown since running back Stephen Houston had a 79-yard catch-and-run in a 2012 game against Penn State.
The IU defense maintained its dominance as the third quarter continued, forcing a three-and-out on Ball State's next possession. Redding got back in the action with a 28-yard burst once the Hoosiers' got the ball back, leading to the third Oakes field goal of the day, this one from 41 yards away, which made it 30-0 IU with 10:29 still to play in the third quarter.
The game was essentially over at that point with the only remaining drama relating to whether IU's defense would hold on for a shutout. That outcome was decided late in the third quarter when Ball State mounted a drive. Neal completed a 43-yard throw to wideout Jordan Hogue that advanced the Cardinals to the Indiana 4-yard and although IU's defense stiffened from there BSU eventually ended up putting its first points on the board when kicker Morgan Hagee knocked a 22-yard try through the uprights.
Despite falling behind by 30 points, Ball State never quit and made the game somewhat interesting down the stretch. Early in the fourth quarter the Cardinals forced a turnover of their own as IU punter Joseph Gedeon had one of his kicks blocked at his own 10-yard line. Ball State's Malik Dunner picked up the loose ball and ran it in for BSU's first TD of the day. That made the score 30-13 and the Cardinals would cut into the lead further with a 13-play, 78-yard drive later in the quarter that was by far their best offensive effort of the game.
That drive ended in another touchdown, this time on a 5-yard pass from Neal to Hogue, giving Ball State 20 unanswered points and cutting the Indiana lead to 10. The long drive ate up more than six minutes, however, and when a Cardinal onside kick failed IU was able to seal its second consecutive victory.
Player of the Game-Nick Westbrook
Westbrook had his best game as Hoosier, setting career highs with 133 yards receiving and two touchdowns. It was his first career 100-yard receiving game and with nine catches in his first two games of the 2016 season he's already surpassed his reception total for all of 2015 (six).
The victory was somewhat Pyrrhic for the Hoosiers as a couple of key players went down with injuries and did not return. All-American offensive lineman Dan Feeney left with an undisclosed injury in the first half while wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. left with a leg injury on the first IU possession and later returned to the sideline with a walking boot and crutches.
The Cardinals had won the previous three meetings against IU...This is the first time the Hoosiers have started 2-0 in consecutive seasons since 2008-2009...IU's three turnovers on defense give it six in two games under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen...The Hoosiers have forced three turnovers or more in four straight games dating back to last season, the longest such streak at IU since 1989...Redding carried 26 times for a total of 110 yards, the fifth consecutive games he's gone for over 100 yards dating back to last season...The Hoosiers' scoreless first half on defense was the first such half since the second half of a 2013 game against Bowling Green...The Hoosiers honored the Indiana athletes who were also members of Team USA at the Rio Olympic Games with a ceremony between the first and second quarters
The Hoosiers have a bye week then are back Sept. 24 at Memorial Stadium against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-0). The time and broadcast information for the game are to be determined. Indiana defeated Wake Forest on the road last season, 31-24, the Hoosiers' fourth consecutive victory to open the 2015 season.