IU picked a wrong time for its worst defensive game of the Tom Allen Era.
Needing a win to stay in the hunt for bowl eligibility, Indiana (3-7, 1-6 B1G) allowed 662 yards of total offense to Illinois (5-5, 3-4 B1G), falling to the Illini 48-45, in overtime. Illinois QB John Paddock led the way, throwing for a program-record 507 yards through the air.
As has been the case since Rod Carey’s takeover as IU’s OC, Indiana got off to a decent start. After Isaiah Williams muffed a punt giving IU good field position, Trent Howland powered in for a one-yard score, giving the Hoosiers the early lead.
Indiana’s defensive issues began on the next drive and never got resolved. A miscommunication freed up Williams for a big catch down the left sideline, and on the next play, Reggie Love III ran it in for an easy score.
While the defense had its problems, Donaven McCulley continued his hot stretch of football that should put him in the conversation for one of the league’s best wideouts next year. Brendan Sorsby routinely looked his way throughout the first half, at one point throwing it to him seven times in a stretch of 10 throws. Illinois couldn’t stop it.
McCulley gave IU the lead with 14:33 to go in the half, and second McCulley score put IU up 21-12 midway through the second quarter. After a Louis Moore interception, Sorsby found the end zone after a physical, unrelenting run, escaping four Illinois defenders. IU held a 15-point advantage.
The middle of the game could not have gone worse for Indiana. To end the first half, Paddock led consecutive TD drives, sandwiched around an Indiana punt. The drives went 73 and 92 yards, respectively, as Illinois’ offense carved up the Hoosier defense. He explicitly targeted his wide receiver trio during the stretch, as Williams, Casey Washington, and Pat Bryant all caught multiple passes as Paddock completed eight straight to end the half.
As great as Indiana’s offense was in the first half, they turned it over twice and punted in a scoreless third quarter. Meanwhile, the Illini offense took the lead and created a two-score advantage early in the fourth. Paddock led four TD drives in five possessions after his interception to Moore.
Indiana’s comeback efforts began there. Sorsby led a quick scoring drive to start the 4th, aided by a couple of 15-yard Illinois penalties, including an ejection for Tahveon Nicholson after he spit on EJ Williams. Sorsby used his legs for a five-yard TD, cutting the deficit to one score.
Indiana’s hero from the Wisconsin win, Aaron Casey, made a huge stop late in the 4th, tackling Love III for a four-yard loss on a 3rd-and-2 with 2:45 to go. Had the Illini picked up the first down, the game would have ended, as IU had no timeouts. IU got the ball back, down 42-34, with 1:37 left.
Sorsby would lead a TD drive for the ages. He used Dequece Carter as his primary target, finding him three times on the drive, culminating in a perfect strike to Carter for 26-yard TD with 28 seconds left. That was Sorsby’s fifth TD of the game. Indiana needed a 2-point conversion to tie. Sorsby found EJ Williams. Overtime.
Carey’s play-calling on IU’s OT drive was hard to explain. After Sorsby’s effectiveness throwing the football, Carey drew up three designed runs, with Henderson taking the first and Sorsby carrying the next two. Illinois’ defense forced a three-and-out, and Chris Freeman gave IU a short-lived lead with a field goal.
On 3rd-and-6, Paddock escaped the pressure from IU’s defensive line, rolling to the right and finding an open Isaiah Williams. Jamari Sharpe stumbled in coverage, and Williams walked into the end zone.
Indiana returns home to take on fellow last-place team Michigan State in the last home game of the season. Kickoff time is still TBD, with the game on BTN. The game will be for the Old Brass Spittoon, which IU won last year in East Lansing, 39-31 in OT.