BLOOMINGTON — The feel-good 2020 football season for Indiana feels longer and longer ago.
A string of injuries and inconsistent play have kept the Hoosiers from sustaining the breakthrough season into 2021. The low point came on a rainy Saturday night. In a prime-time matchup, IU was manhandled in all three phases in a 54-7 loss to No. 5 Ohio State at Memorial Stadium.
“We’ve got to flush this,” IU linebacker Micah McFadden said. “This is the start to an entirely new season for the Hoosiers. We’re moving on to the next game. We can’t dwell on this. Hats off to them, great team, but we’re better than that. We know that.”
The game began as a sellout, but by halftime, with IU trailing 44-7, a sea of taillights headed for the parking lot exits. The Buckeyes outgained the Hoosiers 334-54 in the first half, scoring touchdowns on all six of their first-half drives.
Starting quarterback Jack Tuttle led IU to a 75-yard touchdown on its opening drive, going 4-of-7 for 41 yards and converting four third-down conversions. But as Tuttle connected with tight end Peyton Hendershot on a 7-yard TD pass, he was slammed to the turf by a handful of OSU pass rushers. Tuttle stayed down before making it off the field under his own power. He returned for two plays in the second quarter but sat out for the remainder of the game with an apparent leg injury.
IU head coach Tom Allen does not know at this point Tuttle’s status for next Saturday’s game at Maryland.
“Obviously, it hurt us without question,” Allen said. “Don’t know yet. They did the X-Rays right after, and it came back negative, but they need to do an MRI to find out more ligament damage wise. Obviously, he’s in a lot of pain right now but don’t know yet.”
The Hoosiers (2-5, 0-4 Big Ten) alternated true freshman Donaven McCulley and walk-on Grant Gremel at quarterback for the rest of the game, with neither being able to spark the offense. Ohio State, meanwhile, kept moving up and down the field with regularity. The Buckeyes went ahead to stay 14-7 on a 21-yard TD run by TraVeyon Henderson with 1:25 left in the first quarter.
Then Ohio State reeled off 30 points in the second quarter, scoring on four touchdowns and a safety. Henderson scored two of the touchdowns on a 14-yard catch-and-run TD pass from Stroud and a 6-yard TD run. Stroud also connected with Chris Olave on a 16-yard TD pass and a 14-yard TD pass to tight end Jeremy Ruckert with 31 seconds left in the first half, putting the Buckeyes up 44-7 at halftime.
“It was ugly. That’s the best way to describe it,” Allen said. “It was painful, especially that second-quarter window.”
IU was again without starting cornerbacks Tiawan Mullen and Reese Taylor, who both sat out their second straight games with leg injuries. Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud took advantage of IU’s banged-up secondary, completing 21 of 28 passes for 266 yards before being replaced in the fourth quarter.
“I was concerned,” Allen said. “To say that not having Reese and Tiawan, I would say it makes a major difference in our defense — especially against those receivers — and really modified the way we felt we had to play.”
The Buckeyes (6-1, 4-0) also rolled up 187 rushing yards on 5.8 yards per carry.
“I was most disappointed with our tackling in the first half,” Allen said. “That was really what I didn’t expect at all and our run defense.”
McFadden recorded IU’s lone sack on a blitz in the third quarter, but Stroud was able to make it through most of the three quarters he played unscathed.
“It really came down to not getting pressure on him,” Allen said. “That’s what caused the biggest issue. You try to find different ways to do that and just other things we felt like would give us a chance, and they picked a lot of those things up.”
IU begins the lighter stretch of its second-half schedule next Saturday at Maryland, but with the status of Tuttle in doubt, the Hoosiers could be in danger of missing a bowl appearance this season. With Gremel and McCulley under center, IU managed just 53 yards of offense after Tuttle was hurt.
Allen vowed postgame the Hoosiers will continue to battle through adversity and mounting injuries.
“As tough as this night was, it’s one we have to put in the trash and press on,” Allen said.