There were seven seconds left when junior lineman Beau Robbins beat his man and sacked Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito.
Robbins wasn’t thinking about the situation or the time or making a game-changing play to give Indiana football the win it had been wanting for so long. He was thinking about doing his job.
Illinois was nearing midfield, needing only a field goal to send the game to overtime, when Robbins got clean off his blocker and wrapped up DeVito, a loss of eight yards that all but sewed up IU’s 23-20 win.
“That's when the gravity of the situation came in and you realize, you know, it was such an awesome moment,” Robbins told the media Monday. “I'm really glad it worked out that way.”
The sack, the first of Robbins’ career, has been part of an upswing that’s been a long time coming. Robbins is up 22 pounds since arriving from Carmel, Indiana, and both he and head coach Tom Allen noted how much better he looks and feels thanks to his diet and work ethic.
“I just feel so much stronger,” Robbins said. “It's a big transition (to the Big Ten), especially up front. Being able to really go through that strength and conditioning program for a few years, I got to a point where not only was I holding my own but actually knock guys back and be strong and be physical while still being fast.”
His physicality and speed came through Friday with his sack. It was only his second career tackle for loss, and his two tackles against Illinois have already put him at half the total he had in 12 games in 2021.
His climb towards steady playing time hasn’t been easy, but Allen thinks Friday was just the start.
“A sack in that situation is a game changer,” Allen said. “Just the way he's come on, he's just been steady. He's never wavered. He hasn't always been a guy that's been starting, and I see that changing here soon, but just so proud of him.”
Robbins arrived at Indiana, the school he grew up cheering for, with promise — he was the state’s No. 4 recruit in the class of 2019 — but with molding still to be done in order to play on a Big Ten defensive line. Defensive coordinator Chad Wilt said Robbins has put in the work to fit that mold.
“I just always felt that if I just kept doing everything I possibly could, work as hard as I could, that eventually it would start to pay dividends,” Robbins said. “I got to see some of that come to fruition on Friday.”
Robbins said he’s had teammates alongside him like Ryder Anderson, who’s now on the New York Giants’ practice squad, and James Head Jr. to help him build. As a veteran in his fourth season, he’s also working to build bonds with some of the newer defensive lineman, such as Cal transfer JH Tevis.
Tevis was next to Robbins on his sack, and Robbins said the chemistry they’ve built this offseason helped them prepare to rush together.
Robbins has spent years refining his technique, no longer able to overpower opponents with raw strength and speed like he did in high school. It’s taken thousands of reps, day-in and day-out, leading to one snap with seconds left against the Illini.
That snap is certain to lead to more, which means there are certainly thousands more reps waiting. But Robbins has done it before.
“We know Rome wasn't built in a day, but you stack a brick each day and keep making those walls grow,” Wilt said. “Keep building the buildings brick-by-brick, and that’s Beau Robbins in a nutshell.”