BLOOMINGTON-Kentucky served as the perfect remedy for everything that ailed the Indiana football team Saturday.
Indiana used a dominating running game and a stifling defense to open a 17-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 38-14 win over an injury-riddled Kentucky team Saturday in front of 40,240 at IU's Memorial Stadium.
The win for Indiana (3-0) was just the second in the last 11 tries against the Wildcats (1-2). It also marked the first time since 1994 that Indiana opened the season 3-0.
After leaning heavily on its passing game in its opening two wins over Central Michigan and Nicholls State, it was the running game that keyed the Indiana offensive attack. Chris Taylor, who had been limited to 78 yards combined in the opening two contests, ran for 155 yards in the first half alone and finished with a career-high 176 yards on 17 carries.
"We said we had to be better running the ball. Well, we got it going – we go the running game going exactly like we needed to," said IU Coach Terry Hoeppner.
The Hoosier offensive line, which had drawn some criticism for its inability to open holes for Hoosier tailbacks in the opening two weeks, dominated the line of scrimmage and helped Indiana total 305 yards on the ground on a season-high 60 carries.
"I thought the offensive line really won the line of scrimmage and that was the difference," said Blake Powers.
Taylor was the biggest beneficiary, breaking free for four runs of at least 20 yards in the first half (38, 25, 22 and 21).
"I got the holes today," said Taylor, "and that's my job as a running back to run."
Defensively, the Hoosiers bounced back from a sub-par effort a week ago. After yielding 408 rushing yards to Nicholls State last week, Indiana held Kentucky to 77 yards on the ground and 217 total yards. The unit was especially dominant early on, when it forced Kentucky into three-and-outs on four of its first five possessions.
"I've been high on our defense since spring practice – they came to play," said Hoeppner. "It was a great performance by the defense. I know Kentucky is banged up but it's still a talented football team. I'm really happy with our performance on defense."
In a series that has been dominated by the Wildcats in recent years, this was a game dominated by Indiana in every facet. The Hoosiers out-gained Kentucky 440-217 and controlled the ball for 41:37 compared to Kentucky's 18:23. Indiana ran off 82 plays compared to Kentucky's 45 and had 22 first downs while limiting Kentucky to nine.
While the Hoosier offense relied on the work of Taylor and Yamar Washington on the ground, quarterback Blake Powers enjoyed another big performance, completing 17-of-22 passes for 135 yards and four touchdowns. He was 8-of-9 in the second half alone, completing his final seven passes on the evening.
This marks the second straight game Powers has thrown four touchdowns, giving him 11 on the season – a total that already ranks tenth on IU's all-time single season list.
Powers threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Matt O'Neal with four minutes left in the first quarter to put the Hoosiers up 10-0, and then capped the first half scoring with a 1-yard scoring pass to Nick Sexton.
Any hint of a Kentucky comeback was quickly squashed in the second half. After the Wildcats cut the Indiana lead to 17-7 on its first drive of the second half, Hoosier kick returner Lance Bennett returned the ensuing kick 86 yards before tripping himself up at the Kentucky 13.
That set up a Powers touchdown pass to true freshman Brandon Walker-Roby three plays later. Indiana would score on its next drive as well, with Powers capping an 11-play drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to James Hardy.
"That (return) was big," said Hoeppner. "I said we need to answer it right now. He popped that thing."
When Andre Woodson cut the lead to 31-14 on Kentucky's next drive late in the third quarter, Indiana responded with a 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive that took 7:45 off the clock. Yamar Washington, who rushed for 47 of his 67 yards in the second half with Taylor sidelined due to cramping, finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run.
"When it gets to the fourth quarter, our guys feel like we own the fourth quarter – we practice for the fourth quarter," said Hoeppner. "We were able to put it away."
For a team that stood at 2-0 entering the game but was perhaps lacking some confidence after close calls at Central Michigan and at home against Nicholls State, the drubbing of the Wildcats provided a healthy dose of confidence as Indiana prepares for its Big Ten opener. After an off-week this week, Indiana will travel to Madison, Wis., to face the Badgers Oct. 1.
"It gives us a lot of confidence," said Taylor. "We work so hard, we want to see some results come gameday. The team, we're excited, the fans are excited. We're going to try to take that momentum into Wisconsin."
Hoosiers Hammer Wildcats, 38-14
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