Going into IU’s opening night game against Illinois, offensive coordinator Walt Bell knew his team would have to throw the ball — a lot — to win.
The Hoosiers knew the Fighting Illini were going to make life difficult for their offensive line. They anticipated Illinois stacking the box — that they would ensure a numbers advantage over the IU blockers. That would both make the run game difficult to jumpstart, and would put Connor Bazelak under frequent duress.
And that’s how it played out. Indiana couldn’t get anything going on the ground for most of the game, rushing for just 32 yards as a team on 26 carries. Bazelak had to flee the pocket on several occasions as the pass rush closed in quickly. Illinois posted four official quarterback hurries, but only sacked Bazelak once.
It was tough sledding for the IU offensive line, but the Hoosiers knew it would be like that. And upon reviewing the film, the staff realized they may have missed an opportunity.
“I know we threw the ball quite a bit, but we probably should have thrown it more,” Tom Allen said on his radio show on Wednesday. “They (Illinois) were just bound and determined to overload it, so you just gotta take what they give you.”
All things considered, the coaching staff felt the blockers did well.
“Math alone tells you that if we’ve got six blockers and they’ve got seven guys in there, not going to be a good day,” Bell said. “(For) what we asked our O-line to do, I thought they did a fantastic job.”
Running back Shaun Shivers knew going in on Friday that it could be a difficult night. But he also knew his carries would still serve a purpose in the big picture, even if unsuccessful. Those plays help set up others later in the game.
“We knew that they were going to crowd the box. But we still wanted to go out there and show them we can run the ball,” Shivers said. “Obviously we didn’t run it as good as we wanted to. But we still wanted to go out and at least try to get some run looks on film so we can come back and correct what we missed.”
In addition to limiting the damage from Illinois’ pass rush, IU’s offensive line played a clean game — which doesn’t always happen in the opening week. IU committed just one pre-snap penalty — an illegal substitution. So the line didn’t false start all game.
IU’s offense committed just three penalties all game, in total — an illegal motion and a delay of game, on top of the substitution error.
The run game and offensive line will certainly look for a stronger output against Idaho this week. The group will be down a key member, though, with Matthew Bedford tearing his ACL against Illinois. Senior Parker Hanna stepped into that spot Friday, and will draw the start against the Vandals.
Allen said Monday that the coaches weren’t sure what to expect from Hanna when he went into the game last week, but feel more comfortable with him now after his experience against the Illini.
Allen added on Thursday that Hanna has responded well to the opportunity in practice this week.
“He gets a chance to prove it on game day like everybody else does. But that’s why he came here, was for this opportunity. And so he needs to step up and elevate his play, and rise to the occasion. It’s what we expect him to do,” Allen said. “Parker’s worked really hard, he’s a very bright, tough kid, played a lot of football, so now I’m excited to see him get a chance to perform in the Big Ten.”
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