For 59 minutes and 59 seconds last week, against perhaps the most talented team in the country, the Indiana Hoosiers held their own.
In fact, they more than held their own.
They came out fighting hard in the first half, going toe to toe with the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes, and while it may not be entirely fair to say that they had the Buckeyes on the ropes, the Hoosiers certainly had their attention.
They weren’t just there to compete—they were there to win. And when things went sour in the second half—when their defense finally started to crumble, and when the game finally seemed to be lost—the Hoosiers simply refused to give up, fighting tooth and nail to get themselves back into the game, even without the services of starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
Get back into the game is precisely what they did. With the entire nation watching, the Hoosiers did themselves proud, and even though Zander Diamont’s last-gasp pass ultimately fell incomplete, ending their shocking upset bid, a message was sent—to all of college football, yes, but mostly to the rest of the Big Ten.
This isn’t the same old Indiana.
Coach Kevin Wilson has spent the past four seasons trying to build a foundation of success in Bloomington, and though we must be careful not to read too much into just these first five games of the 2015 season, it’s probably fair to say at this point that, yes, Wilson’s efforts are finally paying dividends.
There are still issues on defense, of course, and the depth isn’t quite there yet, but for the first time in a long time, the Hoosiers have enough talent—and, maybe more importantly, enough confidence—to take the field each and every week and actually compete.
That’s what we saw against the Buckeyes.
Now, the challenge for Wilson—and for his players—is to show us that their near-upset of mighty Ohio State was no fluke.
Their first opportunity to do so will come this Saturday in Happy Valley, as the Hoosiers travel east to take on a Penn State team that, its 4-1 record notwithstanding, has hardly been impressive this season. Coach James Franklin’s team has been dented by key injuries on both sides of the ball, and has looked, at times, downright miserable on offense.
The Nittany Lion passing game is a mess, and with both starting tailback Akeel Lynch and promising freshman Saquon Barkley recovering from injury, it’s unclear whether Penn State will be able to field a single proven playmaker against the Hoosiers.
Franklin didn’t have any on the field last week against Army, and the result was nothing short of an awful offensive performance—the Nittany Lions picked up just 264 total yards against a Knights defense that had previously given up more than 400 against the likes of Fordham and Eastern Michigan.
In other words, this Penn State team is a team the Hoosiers can beat. They really can. And in fact, I think they should.
But will they?
Ultimately, the answer to that question will come down not necessarily to their talent, but rather, their belief—specifically, their belief that, no, last week was no fluke and that, yes, they are here to stay.
The Hoosiers showed us something last week, sure.
But in many ways, the real test comes now.