Bazelak leads Hoosiers past Illinois 23-20 with late rally
BLOOMINGTON, Indiana — – Connor Bazelak wanted a fresh start in Indiana.
He couldn’t have made a better first impression.
The Hoosiers’ new starting quarterback threw a touchdown pass and then finished the game leading his team for 75 yards, capped off by Shaun Shivers’ 1-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left to give Indiana a superb 23-20 win over Illinois on Friday. night.
“That’s who he is, he’s extremely calm and it shows when you have to find an open receiver and show some composure,” coach Tom Allen said. “He just did what we had to do. In the end, last time I checked, we got more points than them.”
No, it wasn’t pretty and it certainly didn’t go according to the script.
But after eight straight losses and no wins in Big Ten play last year, this season and the conference opener meant a lot for the Hoosiers and Bazelak, who traded from Missouri. It was a relief.
“I know I wasn’t there last year, but those guys had a bad taste in their mouths,” Bazelak said. “I’m just delighted that we got a win tonight, 1-0.”
Bazelak had 28 of 52 passes for 330 yards and he was incredibly efficient when Indiana got the ball at their 25-yard line with 2:16 left, down 20-16.
It was a frustrating finish for the Illini, who took the lead early in the third quarter and didn’t trail until Shivers scored.
Chase Brown rushed for 199 yards, becoming the first Illinois player to start a season with consecutive 100-yard games since 1944. Tommy DeVito also threw two touchdown passes for Illinois (1-1, 0-1).
Still, that wasn’t enough in a slugfest that included Brown losing one of two fumbles, multiple players injured and a series of replay reviews that brought the second half to a stalemate. It featured only one score – DeVito’s 16-yard TD pass to Brian Hightower at the start of the third quarter – until the last 2 1/2 minutes.
And there were plenty of missed opportunities, including Indiana’s fourth quarter goal line. The Hoosiers stopped Brown on three straight runs and coach Bret Bielema blamed himself.
“This fourth try is up to me to make a better decision. I thought we could go up two scores and obviously we failed,” he said. “It’s something we need to adjust. It’s simple and planned. It’s the number 1 thing we need to eradicate from this program. Before you can win, you need to prevent yourself from losing.”
As Indiana struggled to stop the run, Bazelak cut out Illinois’ secondary in the first half and again on the final drive. His first completion as the Hoosier was for 40 yards — more than Illinois gave up in the entire game last weekend.
Bazelak added three more completions of 24 yards or more in the first two quarters, including one 52-yard TD pass to DJ Matthews Jr. which helped Indiana take a 16-10 halftime lead.
His first pass in the third quarter, however, bounced off the hands of the receiver Andison Coby and was chosen by Kendall Smith. Five plays later, Hightower crossed the goal line to give Illinois a 17-16 lead.
Bazelak responded with a perfect final drive.
“There’s a lot of power in finding a way to win a game like this… the positives and the belief – and finally getting a Big Ten victory in our first game,” Allen said. “Going 75 yards with no downtime… Connor was awesome.”
Illinois: The offense led the game in total yardage and time of possession while the defense allowed just 32 rushing yards. Normally, that would be a perfect winning scenario for the Illini.
Indiana: linebacker cam jones challenged teammates in the offseason and again on Friday and the defense responded. If the Hoosiers keep playing tenaciously, they will be competitive every week. The big question: can the offense find its way consistently?
Illinois also missed other opportunities. Hugh Robertson’s first two punts went 12 and 23 yards and the Hoosiers took advantage by scoring 10 points.
Midway through the second quarter, it appeared that Hightower had taken a contested 29-yard touchdown catch. But the pass was ruled incomplete on the field and a replay let the call stand. Illinois settled for a field goal, a four-point swing.
Although Jones, a three-year-old captain, finished the game after appearing to hurt his right leg in the third quarter, Allen said he didn’t know the severity of the injury. starting right tackle Matthew Bedford left in the first half with what appeared to be an injured right knee. He didn’t come back. Cornerback Jaylin Williams also left late with an injury.
Illinois: The Illini host Virginia in Champaign, Illinois on September 10.
Indiana: The Hoosiers host Idaho on Sept. 10.
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