Indiana football, needing to win out to become bowl-eligible, engaged in a total shootout Saturday at Illinois.
The Hoosier defense turned in one of its worst performances of the Tom Allen era, as Illinois recorded 662 yards of total offense, tied for the most an Allen defense has allowed at IU. Meanwhile, IU’s offense enjoyed its biggest output of the season against an FBS opponent, with 451 total yards.
Indiana redshirt freshman quarterback Brendan Sorsby put together an impressive game-tying drive near the end of regulation to get the Hoosiers to overtime.. But IU settled for a field goal in the extra period, before Illinois backup quarterback John Paddock hit Isaiah Williams for a 21-yard touchdown to give the Fighting Illini a 48-45 win in Champaign.
Allen, after the game, called his defense’s performance unacceptable.
“Worked really hard to get our offense on track, made a lot of adjustments, and coach (Rod) Carey did a great job with that unit to produce that amount of points,” Allen said. “Defense has got to step up and do their jobs. Call it what it is: defense let its team down today. That’s the bottom line, period.”
Illinois (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) started Paddock after its regular starter, Luke Altmyer, suffered an injury at the end of last week’s game at Minnesota. And Paddock lit up Indiana’s defense for 507 passing yards, the most IU (3-7, 1-6) has allowed in a single game since 2004 against Purdue. Both quarterbacks transferred to Illinois this year — Altmyer from Ole Miss, Paddock from Ball State.
During his midweek radio show, Allen said the Hoosiers expected Altmyer to play. After Saturday’s game, he said they prepared for both quarterbacks.
“We watched film on the one that ended up playing. Obviously, didn’t know he was going to play. Obviously, you have to prepare for both, just make phone calls, try to find out as much about him as we could,” Allen said. “Watched film from where he came from, and felt good about that part of it. But obviously, we just couldn’t get pressure on him. That was the issue. He was able to throw with nobody in his face much, and that was not really what we wanted to be able to do. But yeah, we obviously were expecting No. 9, but we had a plan for No. 4.”
Illinois scored first, but the Illini had to settle for a short field goal after Indiana’s defense stood up in a goal-to-go situation. The Hoosiers forced Illinois to kick three red-zone field goals Saturday, part of what gave them a chance at the end.
Illinois then muffed a punt after an IU three-and-out, and the Hoosiers recovered. They turned that into a one-yard touchdown run by redshirt sophomore Trent Howland — his first career touchdown.
The Illini responded quickly, with a 67-yard pass to Williams followed by an eight-yard touchdown run by Reggie Love III, making it 9-7 Illinois at the end of the first quarter.
IU established a 15-point lead in the second quarter, thanks to two touchdown catches by Donaven McCulley and a Sorsby rushing score. McCulley put up his biggest numbers since moving to wide receiver last year, with 11 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Illini started turning their chunk gains into touchdowns later in the quarter, and two passing touchdowns trimmed IU’s lead to 27-26 at halftime.
Indiana seemed to have some momentum midway through the third quarter, but after Howland was stuffed for a loss on a 3rd and 2 at the Illinois 36, Allen elected to punt on 4th and 4 instead of going for it. And the Illini responded with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Williams to take the lead.
Williams torched Indiana’s defensive backs Saturday, with 200 yards on nine receptions with the two touchdowns. Allen was appalled by his secondary’s play.
“Shocked, in the first half especially, just blown coverages. Just really shocked, to be honest with you. Very frustrated. No excuses for it,” Allen said. “A couple times, (it was) poor communication. One time, apparently one of our guys got the wrong signal, which shouldn’t happen in week 10. And then just a couple young guys that made some mistakes, but still, at the same time, if they’re in there this time of year, they’ve got to make plays. Just really disappointed.”
Illinois took a two-possession lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, after a Sorsby interception, on Love’s second touchdown run of the game. He finished with 140 yards on 24 carries.
IU’s offense didn’t go down quietly, as Sorsby picked up his second rushing touchdown of the game to make it a 39-34 game. Then, after another Illini short field goal and a key third-down tackle for loss by Aaron Casey, Indiana’s offense got the ball back with 1:37 to go — one last chance to keep hope alive. And the redshirt freshman showed remarkable poise in orchestrating a tidy six-play, 85-yard drive, and he capped it with a 26-yard pass to Dequece Carter.
Sorsby played his strongest game since taking over as Indiana’s starting quarterback. He completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts for 289 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, and he rushed for 53 yards on 17 carries (including Illinois’ seven sacks for 36 yards), and the two rushing scores.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome the leaky defensive performance. In addition to Williams’ huge day, Illinois receiver Pat Bryant posted 131 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, and Casey Washington recorded 99 yards and a touchdown on five catches.
The loss means IU can win only five games this season, at most, which wouldn’t be enough to qualify for a bowl game. This is the third consecutive season that Indiana has missed a bowl.
The Hoosiers return home next week to host Michigan State for senior day.
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