Hoosiers Pick Off Important Road Win

Indiana started strong Saturday, but finished even better. Ray Fisher returned the game's opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Hoosiers forced Akron into four second-half turnovers on their way to a 38-21 win in front of 18,340 at InfoCision Stadium in Akron...

Indiana started strong Saturday, but finished even better.

Ray Fisher returned the game's opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Hoosiers forced Akron into four second-half turnovers on their way to a 38-21 win in front of 18,340 at InfoCision Stadium in Akron.

Indiana improved to 3-0 with the win heading into next week's Big Ten opener at Michigan. Akron, meanwhile, dropped to 1-2.

While Fisher's opening 91-yard return had the IU sidelines buzzing only 15 seconds into the game, it was the team's dominance in the final 30 minutes that was the most satisfying to IU Coach Bill Lynch. Leading 17-14 at halftime, the Hoosiers intercepted first-time starting quarterback Matt Rodgers four times – including two by Austin Thomas – in the second half. Those takeaways helped Indiana score the first 21 points of the half to blow the game open and avoid the late-game dramatics that they've needed in wins over Eastern Kentucky the first two weeks.

Both of Thomas' interceptions and subsequent returns set up IU touchdowns. With Indiana clinging to a three-point lead, the senior safety picked off Rodgers four minutes into the third quarter and returned it 31 yards to the Akron 18. Five plays later, Ben Chappell connected on a four-yard scoring strike to tight end Max Dedmond to put IU up 10, 24-14.

Thomas struck again late in the third quarter. IU defensive end Greg Middleton pressured Rodgers into a wobbly throw, which Thomas picked off and returned 46 yards to the Akron 19. Four plays later, Trea Burgess found a hole on the right side and scored from five yards out to give the Hoosiers a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

"It would have been nice to see him take one back for a score, but we'll take it," Lynch said.

Akron never seriously threatened the rest of the way, failing to score its final touchdown until Indiana had emptied the bench midway through the fourth quarter.

In addition to Thomas' two picks, Tyler Replogle came up with an interception off a tipped ball by Donnell Jones, and Andre LeGrone added a fourth interception late. The interceptions of Rodgers – who was pressed into a starting role after the Friday indefinite suspension of senior quarterback Chris Jacquemain – were set up by an IU pass rush that applied pressure all afternoon.

Middleton sacked Rodgers on the Zips' second offensive play, and Jammie Kirlew and Tyler Replogle added sacks as well. In addition to those big defensive plays, the Hoosiers were consistently applying pressure and forcing the Zips' rookie starter into ill-advised throws and ill-timed turnovers.

"Our defense forced turnovers and put pressure on the quarterback all day long," Lynch said.

While the defense was coming up with takeaways, the offense was taking advantage of the opportunities. Led by a ground game that piled up 180 yards, Indiana scored touchdowns on four of its five trips inside the Akron red zone, including all three times in the second half.

"(The second half touchdowns) were good to see, especially late when we were able to control the clock and run the football," said Lynch. "That's how you win football games."

After relying on Demetrius McCray for most of the rushing success a week ago, the Hoosiers rotated McCray, Darius Willis and Trea Burgess against Akron. Willis wound up leading the way with 15 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown, and Burgress impressed as well with 13 carries for 59 yards and another touchdown. McCray, meanwhile, added another 45 yards on 12 carries, helping Indiana 180-106 edge on the ground and a nearly 10-minute edge in time of possession.

The Hoosiers huge time of possession edge was a byproduct of not only the turnovers, but also a 10-of-15 success rate on third down conversions.

"A big part of that was we were in a lot of 3rd and 1s, 3rd and 2s," Lynch said. "When you can get to 3rd and 1, 3rd and 2, you have a chance to convert. We did it both running the ball and with some play action passes as well."

While Indiana did have a couple of breakdowns in the special teams with a blocked Chris Hagerup punt that was returned for a touchdown and a blocked Nick Freeland field goal attempt, the end result was a surprisingly easy win for an Indiana team that was actually a three-point underdog heading into the contest.

"It's a reward for these kids for all the hard work," Lynch said. "It's a big challenge ahead, but I know these guys are going to be anxious to go up to the Big House and get going into the Big Ten."

Indiana – Willis 15-66, Burgess 13-59, McCray 12-45, Doss 1-9, Payton 3-3, Evans 1-0, Team 1-(-2). Totals 46-180. Akron – Torrence 2-32, Allen 8-29, Rodgers 10-18, Shuford 5-18, Burney 2-14, Tuzze 1-0, Miller 1-(-2), Bruce 1-(-3). Totals 30-106.

Chappell 28-18-1 163, Evans 2-2-0 12, Follett 1-0-0 0. Totals 31-20-1 175. Akron – Rodgers 23-14-4 165. Totals 23-14-4 165.

Doss 7-60, Belcher 5-49, Evans 4-43, Turner 2-12, Dedmond 2-11. Totals 20-175. Akron – Bowser 3-86, Burney 3-26, LaFrance 3-10, Miller 1-17, Allen 1-12, Bruce 1-9, Torrence 1-3, Shuford 1-2.

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