Scouting report: No. 8 Cincinnati set to face Indiana Hoosiers for first time since 2000

Keith Jenkins
Cincinnati Enquirer

For the first time this season, the University of Cincinnati football team will venture away from the friendly confines of Nippert Stadium and head directly into enemy territory.

The No. 8-ranked (Associated Press/Coaches) Bearcats (2-0) will face a capacity crowd on the road for the first time in quite some time Saturday at Indiana University's Memorial Stadium (noon on ESPN).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UC's road games last season weren't accompanied by stadiums packed with crazed, hostile fans.

That won't be the case against the Hoosiers.

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"The great thing about college football now is it's really back," Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. "You have the environment, you have the crowds. For us to go and play a really, really, really good Indiana team that obviously we've been talking about since the summer, and then throw the road changeup and a lot of the things that we're doing, and the crowd, that's something we haven't experienced in a year and a half or two years. How we will handle that will be a big deal."

Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell in the second half of the NCAA football game between Cincinnati Bearcats and Murray State Racers on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.

The good news for Fickell and the Bearcats is many of those 52,656 fans are expected to be wearing red and black due to the schools' proximity (about 130 miles).

"It will be really nice to know we've got a little bit more that's following and with us," Fickell said. "They could be a little bit of a factor there. We've got to be the No. 1 factor, but it would be nice to have them as the No. 2 factor, that's for sure."

Our First Look at the Indiana Hoosiers

RECORD: Indiana is 1-1 (0-1 Big Ten) this season after bouncing back last week with a 56-14 win over Idaho. The Hoosiers opened the season Sept. 4 with a 34-6 loss at then-No. 18-ranked Iowa. The Hawkeyes (2-0) are now the fifth-ranked (Associated Press) team in the country (No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA coaches poll).

RANKING: Indiana enters Saturday's matchup unranked after opening the season No. 17 in both polls. The Hoosiers were ranked in the preseason for the first time since 1969.

Indiana head coach Tom Allen watches from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 34-6. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

HEAD COACH: After being the doormat of the Big Ten Conference for years, Indiana picked itself off of the ground and got a massive facelift when Tom Allen took over the Hoosiers program in December 2016.

Allen, 51, who was hired as Indiana's defensive coordinator in January 2016 under then-head coach Kevin Wilson, became the man in charge after Wilson's sudden resignation.

After back-to-back 5-7 seasons in 2017 ad 2018, Allen's Hoosiers went 8-5 in 2019 and followed that with a 6-2 COVID-shortened campaign in 2020.

Indiana started last season with an upset victory over Penn State in overtime and climbed as high as No. 11 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Allen's 24 wins were the most by an Indiana head coach over their first four seasons.

Head coach Tom Allen congratulates Michael Penix Jr. (9) after a touchdown during the first half of the Indiana versus Idaho football game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 11, 2021.

KEY PLAYERS: Junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is 11-3 as a starter and is coming off of a second-team All-Big Ten season despite suffering a torn ACL in 2020.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Tampa, Florida, native completed 11 of 16 passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another score in the Hoosiers' win over Idaho last week. It was a far better performance than the three-interception outing Penix had in Indiana's Week 1 loss to Iowa.

Penix's top target is graduate wide receiver Ty Fryfogle. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound wideout is only the 21st Hoosiers player to reach 100 career catches (122) and 1,500 yards (1,832). Fryfogle earned AP third-team All-America honors last season and was named the Big Ten Receiver of the Year.

Fryfogle, who enters Saturday averaging 11.3 yards per catch, will provide the toughest test yet for Cincinnati All-American cornerback Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner.

Ty Fryfogle catches a pass during Indiana University football practice Wednesday, August 7, 2019. (Rich Janzaruk / Herald-Times)

"It's going to be a great opportunity for him," Fickell said. "I don't think Indiana's going to shy away. What they've done and what they did last year – throwing for 491 yards on Ohio State – they're going to believe in who they've got and what they do and they're not going to change. They're going to take their shots, and Fryfogle is going to be in the boundary a lot. It's going to be a great matchup."

Defensively, Indiana is led by junior cornerback Tiawan Mullen (team-high 12 tackles this season) and graduate defensive lineman Ryder Anderson (11 tackles and three tackles for loss in 2021).

SERIES HISTORY: The Bearcats and Hoosiers will meet for the first time since Sept. 23, 2000, when Indiana defeated Cincinnati 42-6 in Bloomington. Indiana leads the all-time series 9-3-2, including a 6-2-1 mark at home.

FUN FACT: Despite Indiana's proximity to Cincinnati, the Hoosiers only have one Cincinnati native on their roster. Former Moeller High School standout offensive lineman Zach Carpenter is a sophomore for Indiana after joining the Hoosiers as a transfer from the University of Michigan in January.