COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After climbing to its highest AP Top 25 poll ranking in more than a half-century, No. 9 Indiana got a chance to find out how it measured up with Big Ten behemoth Ohio State, a team the Hoosiers hadn't beaten in 32 years.
They came up short but sure made it interesting -- and a lot closer than the No. 3 Buckeyes would have liked.
Behind quarterback Michael Penix Jr., Indiana (4-1) rallied from a four-touchdown deficit in the second half only to be outlasted by the Buckeyes 42-35 on a rainy Saturday in an all-but-empty Ohio Stadium.
"You know, people didn't think we belonged on the field with Ohio State, but I think we showed that today,'' Indiana coach Tom Allen said. "I think we're a good football team, a really good football team.''
The Buckeyes (4-0) were happy to get out of there with a win after leading 35-7 early in the second half and allowing Indiana to climb back to within one score. Two weeks ago, Ohio State led 35-3 at halftime and was outscored 24-14 in the second half in a win over Rutgers.
"We've got to figure out a way to close out games," Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. "This is kind of the second week now we let a team hang around a little bit, and we've got to get that fixed. But [there were] so many great things in this game. Indiana is a good team, they're a top-10 team, so this was not easy.''
The Buckeyes' defense in the second half struggled to slow down Penix, who had the best statistical day of his career -- 27-for-51 for a career-high 491 yards and five touchdowns.
Penix passed for four touchdowns in the second half but also made a critical error, tossing an interception that Ohio State's Shaun Wade returned for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter. The game might have been different if not for that.
The running game helped Ohio State maintain control when things were dicey. The Buckeyes had two late drives after the Hoosiers got to within a touchdown that didn't result in points, but they did burn the clock and Indiana's timeouts.
The Hoosiers' last possession started deep in their own territory with 38 seconds left and ended with a desperation lateral play that never crossed midfield.
Fields was 18-for-30 for 300 yards and two touchdown passes, but he also threw his first three interceptions of the season and was sacked five times. He ran for 78 yards and a touchdown.
"Of course I made bad decisions,'' Fields said. "I ended up with three picks, but we got the W today. That's all that matters. We got the W, and we're 4-0.''
Garrett Wilson had seven catches for 169 yards -- his fourth straight game of 100-plus yards -- and two scores for the Buckeyes.
Indiana: Penix had a great day but came up just short of being able to dig the Hoosiers out of the hole, and Indiana has now lost 26 straight to the Buckeyes.
"I loved what I saw today, but obviously we didn't get the result we wanted, so it hurts,'' Penix said.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes took a while to get going, and Fields had a few rough patches. Getting outscored in the second half for the second straight game has to be concerning.
Indiana: After reaching its highest poll ranking in over a half-century, the Hoosiers will tumble slightly.
Ohio State: Beating another top-10 team should get the Buckeyes some attention and possibly some more votes.
Indiana's Ty Fryfogle became the first receiver in Big Ten history with back-to-back games with 200 receiving yards. He caught seven passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday after grabbing 11 for 200 yards last week in the win over Michigan State.
A football game at Ohio Stadium has never lacked atmosphere as much as this one. Because of runaway COVID-19 cases in Columbus, public health officials decided to empty out the cavernous venue of everyone except players, staff and media. A few hundred family and friends at least generated some cheers and jeers at the first two home games at the 105,000-capacity Horseshoe. The thousands of cutouts posted around the lower bowl sat silent and soggy in the dreary afternoon. All told, there were just 635 souls in the place.
Indiana is scheduled to go on the road against Maryland, which has had its last two games canceled because of positive COVID-19 tests there.
Ohio State is at Illinois.