BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Reakwon Jones couldn’t believe his eyes. There was the football, rolling on the Memorial Stadium tuff on the very first play from scrimmage of Indiana’s Big 10 game with Rutgers on Saturday.
Despite his initial disbelief, Jones recovered enough to scoop up the loose ball and carry it 17 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 Hoosiers lead 10 seconds into the contest. That touchdown sparked a 35-0 rout of the Scarlet Knights.
“It’s not something you expect at the beginning of a game,” said Jones, who had just one thought when he saw the loose ball. “I gotta go get it. I gotta score this.”
The touchdown was the fastest in Memorial Stadium’s 60-season history.
Demarcus Elliott caused the fumble with a hit on Rutgers’ Johnny Langan, setting a defensive tone that allowed Rutgers pass offense just one net yard gained for the entire game.
And the quick score was the first of three Hoosiers touchdowns in the opening 6:52.
“It was 21-0 before you could blink,” said Indiana coach Tom Allen.
After a Rutgers three-and-out, Indiana (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten) needed just 47 seconds and two plays to cover 70 yards as Michael Penix Jr. completed a 56-yard pass to Whop Philyor and then a 14-yard TD pass to Peyton Hendershot.
After another Rutgers three-and-out, Indiana took a bit more time, needing five plays to cover 59 yards in 2:43 with Nick Westbrook scoring on a 19-yard Penix pass.
Rutgers (1-5, 0-4) has been outscored 165-7 in conference play, including 117-0 on the road this season and now has lost 16 straight Big 10 Conference games.
In just his second game as interim head coach after Chris Ash was fired September 29, Nunzio Campanile was at a loss for words.
“Not a lot of great things to say after that,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve been a part of too many games where the offense played so poorly. One hundred percent on me.”
No Big Ten team has been shut out more since 2000 than Rutgers (10), and the Scarlet Knights didn’t join the conference until 2014.
Langan had only 1 yard passing. Convinced they couldn’t pass, the visitors repeatedly called running plays in third-and-long situations. It’s the ninth time since 2016 that a Rutgers quarterback has passed for less than 50 yards in a game.
“Obviously we only threw for 1 yard,” Campanile said. “I don’t know, that’s almost impossible.
“We’ve got a get a lot tougher on offense. We’ve got to get a lot more physical. In order to play in this league, I think that’s a requirement.”
Indiana was inspired after having two weeks to dwell on a 40-31 loss at Michigan State in which the underdog Hoosiers had tied the game with 2 minutes remaining. The victory snapped a four-game conference losing streak.
“Our defense was excellent from start to finish,” Allen said.
Penix completed 20 of 29 passes for 282 yards and three TDs with one interception. Indiana sophomore running back Stevie Scott III, a former Rutgers recruit who backed out of the commitment, ran for 164 yards on just 12 carries, an average of 13.7 yards per carry.
The Hoosiers had a 557-75 advantage in total yards.
Rutgers: Five consecutive lopsided losses make it difficult to accentuate any positives. If the Scarlet Knights are going to be competitive again, or have a chance at another win, it will likely have to come in the next three games (Minnesota, Liberty, at Illinois) because they finish against three of the Big Ten’s strongest teams (Ohio State, Michigan State, at Penn State).
Indiana: A program that hasn’t been to a bowl game since 2016 and just 11 in 120 years is now two wins away from becoming bowl eligible with six games remaining. Head coach Tom Allen’s first game as an interim coach taking over for the fired Kevin Wilson in 2016 was a 26-24 loss to Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl.
Philyor caught 10 passes for a career-high 182 yards to become the first Indiana receiver with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since Ricky Jones in 2016. The junior had 14 receptions for 142 yards and two scores against the Spartans.
He should have scored a second-quarter touchdown as Rutgers botched coverage and allowed him to run uncovered down the middle of the field. But Penix’s pass was poorly underthrown and Philyor had to dive back for a 31-yard gain. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but upon review, the receiver was able to get his hands under the football for the grab.
Rutgers: At home next Saturday versus Minnesota.
Indiana: Visits Maryland next Saturday.