The Old Brass Spittoon is back in Hoosier hands.
Balls keep sticking to Ty Fryfogle’s hands and, finally, to Tiawan Mullen’s.
The defense is, well, nasty.
The obvious conclusion — No. 10 Indiana is rolling (a Big Ten East-leading 4-0 record), Fryfogle is dominating (18 catches, 3 touchdowns and 342 receiving yards in his last two games) and the Hoosiers are set for next Saturday’s showdown at No. 3 Ohio State.
Welcome to the aftermath of IU’s 24-0 Saturday victory at Michigan State, a trophy-game-winning moment that produced the program’s first 4-0 start since 1987, and its first win as a Top-10 team since 1967.
“This is amazing,” linebacker Micah McFadden said. “We expected this. We talked about it all week, about dominating this team. The offense and defense were making plays.
“We have to keep doing it. Keep it up.”
In this season of beating up those who had beaten them up (see the earlier Penn State and Michigan victories), the Hoosiers — who had lost 10 of their previous 11 meetings with Michigan State — once again rose and conquered.
It was their first Spittoon victory with Tom Allen as head coach.
“It shows how much work we put into it,” quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said. “Coach believes in us. He puts that confidence in us. He makes sure we’re prepared.”
This why Fryfogle, a senior receiver, left Mississippi and Mullen, a sophomore cornerback, left Florida to become Hoosiers.
“This is very special,” Mullen said. “I’m not surprised. This is one of the reasons why I came here. It wasn’t going to take five years. I’m not doing it by myself, but I knew it would change when I got here. I expected this.”
Added Fryfogle: “Coach Allen came to my home and persuaded us that this was a program on the rise. My mom believed. My family believed him. We all believed him.
“This was the best decision I ever made.”
The 6-2, 214-pound Fryfogle played like it. He followed up his monster Michigan game (7 catches for 142 yards and 1 touchdown) with an even better performance — 11 catches for 200 yards and two touchdowns.
“He makes big plays,” Allen said. “He’s a big, strong guy. He’s a tough kid.
“He never says much. He just makes play. He has grit. He fights. That’s our program.”
Mullen, who led the Big Ten last year with 13 pass breakups (but no interceptions), recorded two interceptions, plus three tackles.
“He’s learned how to catch after all those pass breakups,” Allen said with a smile.
“He was due. He’s always around the ball. He’s a great player, a savvy player. He has so much moxie. I love his belief. Not the biggest guy on the field (5-10, 176 pounds), but his heart is huge.”
Added Mullen: “I just saw the ball and attacked. Keep it simple. I was in the right position. I used the right technique. We have the best cornerback coach in the country in Brandon Shelby. I listen to him.”
The defense held Michigan State (1-3) to 191 total yards, just 60 on the ground (38 came on quarterback Payton Thorne’s run). In 12 possessions, the Spartans never got closer to the end zone than Indiana’s 38-yard line.
“A shutout is hard to do in this conference,” Allen said. “We do a good job of taking away what teams need to do to hurt us.
“I’m still mad about that long quarterback run. It’s the standard we have. That edge is what I want. Guys take it personal.
“It’s scheme, toughness and play your tails off. I’m excited about the potential and future of this defense.”
One negative was the injury to linebacker Thomas Allen, the head coach’s son. He was carted off the field.
“It could be serious,” the elder Allen said. “It’s hard to see that and keep coaching, but that’s what you have to do.
“He’s a fighter. He’ll find a way to overcome it and play again.”
Penix delivered his second straight 300-yard passing game. He was 25-for-38 for 320 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions
But the offense — missing offensive line starters Caleb Jones and Mike Katic — failed to score in the second half, missed a field goal and missed three other scoring opportunities.
IU entered the game leading the nation in red-zone efficiency by scoring in all 16 opportunities, including 12 touchdowns.
“It’s not good enough,” Penix said. “We didn’t execute. We’ll stress it this week. We’ll work on it.”
Any worry that the Hoosiers would look past Michigan State to Ohio State were blasted away by a steam-rolling first quarter.
In those first 15 minutes, IU had 14 points. Michigan State had 21 yards, two turnovers, two punts and zero points.
A few minutes later, the Spartans had another turnover and a new quarterback (starter Rocky Lombardi was out, Thorne was in), but the same Cream & Crimson-caused misery.
By halftime, Michigan State trailed by its biggest margin at home since 2008.
The game was, in essence, over.
“Tomorrow starts our focus on Ohio State,” Fryfogle said. “We want to play teams like this and beat them, not just play them.”
On IU’s opening series, under-heat Penix attacked Michigan State’s press coverage on third and long and threw his second interception of the season.
The defense responded by forcing a punt and then getting Mullen’s first interception. The pick gave the Hoosiers the ball at midfield and they drove for the touchdown, the final eight yards coming on a bruising Stevie Scott III run.
IU’s takeaway defense did it again when Allen forced a fumble, which led to Fryfogle’s 16-yard touchdown catch and run fueled by a dropped pass on the previous play. He busted multiple arm tackles to generate plenty of social media video love.
“I was upset (about the drop),” Fryfogle said. “It fired me up. I was glad they gave me an opportunity on the next play to compete for the touchdown.”
That gave IU a 14-0 lead. Its drive for another score ended with a Penix interception in the end zone.
Mullen’s second interception put the Hoosiers right back in scoring position. Charles Campbell’s 21-yard field goal gave them a 17-0 lead. A 65-yard Penix-to-Fryfogle touchdown play produced a 24-0 lead.
After nine straight makes, Campbell missed the first field goal of his college career just before halftime.
IU had a couple of chances to score in the second half, including after cornerback Reese Taylor’s fourth-quarter interception (his 1st of the season), but passed up field goal attempts and failed on fourth-down chances.
“It was ugly, especially offense,” Allen said. “But the defense held them to under 200 yards and had four takeaways. That’s how you win games.”
Now the Hoosiers can focus on a 3-0 Ohio State team that got early preparation after its Saturday game against Maryland was canceled because of COVID-19.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Mullen said. “It’s another one Coach preaches about. Every game is big.
“We’ll get prepared and see what happens come Saturday. We’ll be ready.”