Hoosiers keep bowl hopes alive with 24-14 win

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The heavy bass from the players’ stereo system reverberated through the innards of Memorial Stadium’s visitor’s locker room on Saturday afternoon.

The music was loud to mark a celebratory occasion — Indiana’s first victory in more than a month.

There were smiles and there was cheer, the telling signs of a mission accomplished. The Hoosiers bussed west into Illinois this weekend recognizing the season-defining stakes before them, and followed through with a 24-14 win over the Illini that keeps their bowl hopes alive.

A second-quarter scoring flurry, matched with a strong overall defensive performance allowed IU (4-6, 1-6) to snap its four-game losing streak. Saturday also marked Indiana’s first Big Ten win of the season and the first conference victory of Tom Allen’s head coaching career.

More than anything, it signified that the Hoosiers aren’t dead yet.

“Everybody’s been asking about how these guys are doing, and you know what? They believe,” Allen said. “They believe in themselves, they believe in what we’re doing and they believe in each other and it’s just a matter of (knowing) you need to win.”

That much was made clear by the four consecutive conference losses that put the Hoosiers against a wall. Saturday wasn’t exactly a pretty ballgame, but it was exactly what Indiana needed.

With two winnable games remaining, beginning with next week’s Senior Day showdown with Rutgers and the following week’s Old Oaken Bucket matchup at Purdue, the Hoosiers took the necessary step toward their goal of clinching a third consecutive bowl appearance.

“Obviously, it had been awhile since we won a game,” said quarterback Richard Lagow, referring to IU’s previous victory on Oct. 7 against Charleston Southern. “To get a road win in the Big Ten is always tough and to start this three-game run we go on.”

Lagow, making his second straight start in place of injured freshman Peyton Ramsey, built on last week’s performance against Wisconsin. He completed 32 of his 48 passes for 289 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, helping the Hoosiers settle in after a sluggish first quarter.

IU’s early struggles could be traced, in part, to their ineffectiveness on first down. Negative plays and penalties caused drive-deflating setbacks that were difficult to overcome. At one point late in the opening period, Indiana was averaging merely 2.6 yards per play on first down.

But the Hoosiers took it to the Illini during the second quarter, striking twice before halftime.

Morgan Ellison capped a 10-play, 45-yard drive by rumbling into the end zone from three yards out midway through the second quarter. Then, the Hoosiers followed with their most impressive drive just before the break, marching 90 yards in eight plays. The finisher came on a four-yard scoring connection between Lagow and tight end Ian Thomas.

“It’s just playing in rhythm, everyone just doing their job,” receiver Simmie Cobbs said of the passing rhythm IU found against man coverage Saturday. “The plays are there. If all 11 guys focus on their job and execute that the way it’s supposed to be executed, then everything’s going to work out well.”

On the other side of the ball, IU largely accomplished what it needed to against Illinois’ young offense.

The Hoosiers recorded 10 tackles for loss and eight sacks, while also claiming three takeaways to close the game — a fumble recovery and interception by Tegray Scales and an interception by Rashard Fant.

They also held the Illini to only 33 rushing yards — the second time this season IU held a Big Ten opponent (Penn State) under 50 yards.

“We knew we had to stop the run,” Allen said. “They’ve run the football well against several folks. We wanted to eliminate that and get them into long-yardage situations. … They only ran for 33 yards. When you eliminate the run game, it puts a lot of pressure on an offense. I think that was the biggest key.”

The defense did have its hiccups, including a couple mistakes that led directly to Illinois’ two touchdowns.

Illini receiver Louis Dorsey slipped past IU safety Chase Dutra for a 77-yard touchdown reception that cut IU’s lead to 14-7 to start the second half.

After a 28-yard field goal by Griffin Oakes extended Indiana’s advantage to 10 points, Illinois struck with a long scoring drive to keep the game within reach early in the fourth quarter.

From IU’s perspective, it was a disappointing turn of events. The Hoosiers whiffed twice while trying to bring Illini receiver Caleb Reams to the turf. Reams rumbled his way through IU’s secondary for a 14-yard touchdown reception that cut the Hoosiers’ lead to 17-14 early in the final period.

But a five-yard touchdown reception by Cobbs — combined with three straight takeaways from Scales and Fant — late in regulation helped IU hold on and keep its postseason hopes alive.

“That’s what you have to do, whether you’re playing home or away,” Allen said. “Tough situation that we put ourselves in, but we buckled down, offense scored some points and the defense holds them out.”

9 comments

  1. Agree BP!

    It sure would be nice to get Ball back these next two games. He is one of the best athletes on the team. We can beat Rutgers if the team can stay focused for 4 quarters, but I sure didn’t like that bust by Dutra on the 1st play of the second half to let Illinois get back into the game.

    It was nice to see Fant finally get an interception. He has dropped a number of opportunities over the years. A pick 6 on the 1st series would have really been nice. Scales definitely has better hands than Fant. He has made a couple of difficult interceptions and he really flew to that fumble to beat the Illinois player to it.

    I hope the fans show up for the Rutgers game to support the team. Guys like Scales and the other seniors need a nice send off. Win that one, and it will be a battle royal with the guys up north.

    1. As far as crowd goes it will probably be light on the student side. This coming Friday is the last day of classes before a week long break. I have a feeling that side will be pretty bare.

  2. I feel sort of bad for Lovie Smith…..Ever since Rex “Butterfingers” Grossman debacle at the Super Bowl against the Colts, it’s been all downhill.
    Lovie always gave me the impression of being a really sincere and decent man. Guess I shouldn’t feel too bad for him…He’s still a very wealthy man.

  3. A win is a win and this team needed this win. It will give them a lift heading into the Rutgers game. Ball has a meniscus problem and I doubt he returns before a bowl game. It really hurt not having Fitzgerald eligible as Fields isn’t an adequte cover man from that position.

    The team now needs to get healthier and focus on shutting down Rutgers offense while timing up the passing game to open up more of the run.

  4. Next week should be another “relatively” easy win. The Purdue game in WL is shaping up as the big one. Credit for getting the win in Champaign, even if you can question if we shouldn’t have been capable of blowing it open early.

  5. Neither of these last 2 will be easy. Rutgers has already beaten PUke along with the Terps and hung 35 on Illinois to now hold 3 B1G W’s. The game in Ross-Ade will be a fist fight like no other we been in this year with TO’s being key and ST’s as the intangible factor. I think the Senior led IU-D plays the game of the season for a W. *’POTMFB’!*

  6. No such thing as an easy conf. win for IUFB. Beat the beatables is still the first baby-step for the program. RU and Pee-yew are both beatables. What’s the most recent stretch when IUFB had three consecutive non-losing regular seasons? Mallory had winning seasons ’86, ’87, ’88.

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