BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – A game of ups and downs and ups and downs, and finally ups, ended in spectacular fashion on Saturday, as the Indiana Hoosiers (3-0) knocked off the WKU Hilltoppers (2-1), 33-30. An IU team that struggled to keep up with the fast-paced and vertical Hilltoppers for three quarters stormed back to force an overtime victory.
The Hoosiers’ first half start was great, compared to the difficulty they faced in Week 2. However, IU was riddled by an inconsistent offense and exposed defense for most of the first half. IU got on the board first with a 34-yard confidence-boosting field goal from kicker Charles Campbell after missing multiple attempts in the rain game versus Idaho. True freshman Dasan McCullough also emerged early with another sack, his third of the season, for a 9-yard loss forcing a WKU punt.
After a failed 4th down attempt by the Hoosiers (1/3 4th down conversion rate this season), the Hilltoppers put up a quick 7 following in a 1:13 drive spanning 49 yards in 4 plays, ending with a 26-yard touchdown catch by TE Joey Beljan.
Indiana would not score again until early in the second quarter on a 5-yard touchdown pass by Connor Bazelak to WR Andison Coby. Bazelak would throw for 220 yards and a touchdown on 20/30 passing in the first half. This play marked the last effective drive of the half for the Hoosiers whose next three were spelled by a fumble, punt, and turnover on downs. WKU responded to the Hoosier touchdown by continuing their no-huddle air attack and scoring in 42 seconds on 3 plays over 65 yards. WKU closed the half with a field goal, making the score 17-10 after 30 minutes.
The beginning of the second half was more of the same for the Hilltoppers: no-huddle screen passes for large gains resulting in a third-quarter touchdown. IU found room for a field goal but struggled to keep up with WKU.
OLB Myles Jackson intercepted WKU QB Austin Reed to shift the momentum in IU’s favor. The turnover gave IU the ball on their own 10-yard line. The Hoosiers, led by Josh Henderson who tallied 65 yards on the day, marched 90 yards to score a touchdown and make it a one-score game at 24-19.
WKU silenced the IU cheers after a 59-yard rush by RB Kye Robichaux that led to a 20-yard field goal forced by IU’s goal line defense, keeping the game within the Hoosiers reach at 27-19.
IU tried to strike back on a slow and anticipated 4th and inches which they converted, only to give the ball back to the Hilltoppers 4 plays later. The punt caused some confusion and controversy, however, as it appeared as though a Hilltopper made contact with the ball before a Hoosier. This call was not initially made and after review the original call was unchanged, giving WKU an opportunity with less than 10 minutes in the 4th quarter.
Shortly after the Hilltoppers took over, Cam Jones caused a fumble recovered by Jackson and Indiana. In what seemed like touchdown scoring position, IU was charged with offensive pass interference resulting in a 15-yard penalty. The Hoosiers walked away with a field goal, slowly creeping back into the game 27-22 WKU.
Upon getting the ball back, WKU stormed down the field, led by another long 36-yard Robichaux run. The drive ended in a 24-yard field goal, making the score 30-22. A familiar storybook ending was being set up for the Hoosiers: down by eight points, 3:46 remaining on the clock, ball on their own 25-yard line.
In an IU drive fueled by WKU penalties (3 penalties resulting in 33 yards), the Hoosiers were able to storm down the field and score the touchdown (Bazelak to Camper), as well as successfully convert 2-points, tying the game 30-30 with 0:47 remaining.
The Hilltoppers took over at their own 35-yard line and threw down the field, with help from a 15-yard pass interference penalty, to the IU 34-yard line. With 4 seconds remaining, the Hilltoppers miss a 44-yard field goal, sending the game into overtime.
The Hilltoppers started with the ball first and came up short of a first down after three goes. WKU attempted a field goal from 44-yards that was blocked by the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers took over and mirrored the last WKU drive (3 plays resulting in a loss of yards). IU’s Charles Campbell was set up for a 51-yard game-winning field goal and put it through the posts.
Final Score: IU 33 – WKU 30.
Moving forward: The Hoosiers struggled to generate much offense and relied heavily on defensive stops, which were few and far between. Improving red zone efficiency and scoring touchdowns, not field goals, should be primary goals for the Hoosiers. On the other side of the ball, the defense needs to fill its gaps and prevent momentum-ending breakthrough plays for 25+ yards. All in all, the Hoosiers won making them 3-0 before their first away game of the season.
Indiana’s next game comes up on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Cincinnati (2-1, 0-0 AAC) out of the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats lost many key starters from the team that made the CFP last season and were picked to finish second in the preseason AAC poll, behind Houston. Cincinnati beat Indiana 38-24 last season at Memorial Stadium, in a game IU was controlling before Micah McFadden’s controversial targeting ejection. The game kicks off at 3:30p or 4p ET on ESPN2 or ESPNU.
Photo by Indiana Football