BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — This season, Indiana (1-0, 1-0 B1G) looked to regain the ground they lost in the Big Ten conference last year and return to a bowl game. After week 1, Tom Allen and crew look like a team with potential, but have plenty of room to improve after winning 23-20 against Illinois (1-1, 0-1 B1G).
Indiana came into the game between rivals owning a 3 game win streak against the Illini but have not played Illinois for 5 years. Illinois continues to lead the rivalry winning 45 times with IU taking 24 wins along with 2 ties. This was the first time Tom Allen has played Bret Bielema as coach of Illinois.
Overall, this was a game filled with miscues by both teams. Numerous dropped passes that were critical for Illinois and over/underthrown passes from Connor Bazelak. Even the referees had miscues where they had a missed call from a likely Illinois touchdown in the second quarter and numerous missed penalties.
Despite these difficulties, Indiana was the team to strike first off a field goal from veteran kicker Charles Campbell to put the Hoosiers up 3-0. As the offenses started to heat up, the lead changed back and forth between the rivals.
This new look Hoosiers in the first game for Bazelak showed plenty of potential and firepower at least in the passing game early in the game. Bazelak put up over 200 yards in the first half alone and as the half progressed, the run game started to materialize more with Shaun Shivers and Josh Henderson seeing more touches and making up positive ground. The Indiana run game was no match for the Illinois attack though who put up 109 yards in the first half alone and averaged 4.4 yards/carry to Indiana’s 1.0 yards/carry.
The miscues continued the second half on a throw to Andison Coby that deflected off his hands into the defense. The subsequent drive led to Cam Jones, the defensive leader for the Hoosiers, to come down with a knee injury too. A few plays later, Illinois scored a touchdown off a pass to Hightower resulting in Illinois taking the lead 17-16 over Indiana.
Cam Jones’ injury looked to be severe at first as he was grabbing his knee and in extreme pain. It was worth noting that he ran off the field on his own power and came out to join the Hoosiers on the sideline prior to the offensive next drive. He came back on the field with about 3 minutes left in the third quarter and instantly made an impact on the next play. Noah Pierre made a crucial hit on a backwards pass in the red zone that resulted in a Illini turnover.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Indiana made a huge goal line stop where Illinois went for it on fourth down and could not convert inside the two yard line while they were up 17-16. Josh Sanguinetti had a clutch interception inside the red zone on the next Illinois drive as well. However, a fumble after a catch by Cam Camper shut down the next Hoosier drive. Illinois was the next to strike on a 48-yard field goal to go up 20-16 on Indiana.
A final drive ensued behind Bazelak after the Illinois field goal, and it was one for the ages. Bazelak had one of the most clutch performances seen by Indiana since two years ago in the home opener against Penn State with Mike Penix Jr. leading to victory. Bazelak connected on 7 of 10 passes, all of which were to DJ Matthews and Cam Camper. Bazelak even carried the football on a run play down to the one. Ultimately, Shaun Shivers punched it in on a 1 yard run to put the Hoosiers up for good.
Indiana shut down Illinois on their last drive to secure the game for the Hoosiers. Beau Robbins, a four-star product out of Carmel, sacked DeVito to push the Illini back inside their own 40. After an incompletion and a failed “laterals” play, the Hoosiers landed in the win column.
Indiana needs to establish a run game behind Auburn transfer Shivers and get more accuracy with Bazelak. Also, the time of possession for the Hoosiers needs to be greater to give their defense a rest which will be reliant on their run game. If these get sorted out, expect Indiana to win some tough conference matchups this year.
Indiana’s next game comes up on Saturday, Sept. 10 against the Idaho Vandals out of the Big Sky Conference in the FCS. IU beat Idaho 56-14 last season in Bloomington. The game kicks off at 8p ET on BTN. Idaho takes on Washington State in their season opener.
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