Andy Graham’s observations from Indiana at Illinois

CHAMPAIGN — The weather here is gloomy. The crowd is sparse. But the venerable Memorial Stadium looks good with its recent renovation, which didn’t obscure its traditional ambiance. This remains, after all, the place Red Grange played his college football.

Mikel Leshoure might not be Red Grange, but he and freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will test Indiana’s defense on the ground. Leshoure is averaging 5.4 yards a carry, and Scheelhaase 4.4. But the key today could well be how Hoosier quarterback Ben Chappell fares against an Illini defense that ranks No. 20 in the nation. If the Illini can get pressure on Chappell with just their front four, it could be a very long afternoon for the visitors.

Thanks for reading and, as always, I’ll post observations at the quarter breaks and halftime on this same thread while the game unfolds.

FIRST QUARTER: Illinois 10, Indiana 7.

Tight ends abound. Don’t misinterpret that. Both TDs so far were passes to wide-open tight ends, first to IU’s Ted Bolser and next to the Illini’s Evan Wilson. IU quarterback overcame a shaky start, having thrown an early interception to set up the Illinois field goal that started the scoring, but showed some surprising mobility in and out of the pocket to create some key first downs on Indiana’s scoring drive that culminated with Bolser’s fifth TD reception of the campaign, a school single-season record for tight ends.

IU’s defense had two really good series before getting gouged by its bug-a-boo, big plays, as Illinois needed only five plays to move 90 yards and retake the lead with the throw to Wilson, who ran unmolested up the west sideline.

Lots of surprises so far, to me. Chappell’s pick was an uncharacteristic bad read, right into double-coverage. But he has shown the ability to actually make people miss in buying time to get other throws off. And IU’s defense has performed very well except for the one TD drive for Illinois. The stand after Chappell’s interception, for example, was impressive in holding the Illini to a field goal.

HALFTIME: Illinois 27, Indiana 10

Did you ever think you’d see a half of football when Ben Chappell was better with his feet than with his arm? Or his head?

It’s been a very surprising game for IU’s cerebral senior quarterback so far, both both bad and good reasons from a Hoosier perspective. Mostly the former. Two very uncharacteristically bad throws created easy Illinois scores — the second a 68-yard interception return by Pat Nixon-Youman after Chappell had plenty of time but threw an extremely ill-advised ball late — and a fumble by backup quarterback Dusty Kiel presented the Illini another gift TD opportunity. Without those mistakes, the Hoosiers might have been right in this game. But they obviously now have a big hill to climb.

On the positive side for Chappell, he used his legs to good effect throughout the half, something for which he is hardly renowned.

On IU’s lone touchdown drive, Chappell bought time by stepping up in the pocket and found Tandon Doss on a crossing pattern for 17 yards, then made Akeem Spence miss on a scramble to convert a 3rd-and-2, then scrambled left to hit a diving Terrance Turner for 30 yards. Later, brought a handoff back to scoot 19 yards up the middle in what looked like an impromptu quarterback draw.

Chappell was IU’s rushing leader at halftime. How uncharacteristic can you get?

Regardless, Indiana would be right in this game if its offense hadn’t handed Illinois 17 points. IU has a 227-164 advantage in total yardage so far.

THIRD QUARTER, Illinois 29, Indiana 13.

The game continues along in its inimitable bizarre fashion — badly bizarre, for IU. The Hoosiers are their own worst enemy today. There is little question, now, they can play  competitively with Illinois today, but continue to undermine themselves. Two consecutive punts blocked, the second creating a safety for Illinois. Chappell’s first second half pass went straight to the Illini’s Michael Buchanan, who managed to drop it. Indiana, on a 1st-and-goal from the 7, for the second straight week in that situation started a series with two running plays to no good effect.

The Hoosier defense actually continues to play fairly well, but the offense and special teams have both had better days.