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Linebackers Cam Jones (left) and Bradley Jennings, Jr., celebrate during Indiana's win over Illinois on Sept. 2. (HN photo/Max Wood)
Linebackers Cam Jones (left) and Bradley Jennings, Jr., celebrate during Indiana's win over Illinois on Sept. 2. (HN photo/Max Wood)

Tommy’s Three Takeaways: What Indiana’s win over Illinois means for rest of season

Quarterback play was good despite a shaky o-line performance

What a start it was for Tom Allen’s football team, as Indiana defeated Illinois 23-20 in thrilling fashion. The Hoosiers starting out 1-0 is one thing, but starting out 1-0 with a Big Ten is another thing, as we have seen there are no free wins in this conference. As Indiana looks forward to Saturday night’s game against Idaho, we’re examining three aspects of IU’s win last week that could be indicative of what to expect from the Hoosiers for the rest of the season.

Connor Bazelak has potential at QB

A first game with a new team is never easy. We have seen time and time again where quarterbacks struggle in their first game with a new system, and Bazelak did make a couple of mistakes in his first start as a Hoosier. But in my opinion, the good flashes he showed throughout the game outshined the bad.

What really impressed me most about Bazelak was his ability to make the big play. The one that really stood out to me was a 52-yard pass to DJ Matthews to give the Hoosiers the lead 10-7. Bazelak put it right in the bread basket for Matthews right as he beat the coverage. It was one of the prettier passes that I’ve seen during my time watching Indiana football.

Another thing that impressed me was his ability to stay composed during the game-winning drive. Illinois constantly brought pressure during the final couple minutes of play, but Bazelak showed great poise and was able to hit his receivers where they needed to be in order to win the game. The senior quarterback will need to keep this up as the competition picks up later in the year, as he will face much more talented defenses down the road.

The offensive line will be this team’s Achilles heel

Indiana’s offense had a real rough patch during most of the second half of Friday’s game. A big reason why is the Hoosiers really struggled to establish their running game as a whole the entire game. Indiana rushed the ball 26 times for 32 yards, a paltry 1.2 yards per carry. They are going to need to run the ball much better than they did against Illinois if this team wants to win more games.

Not only was the run blocking not where it needed to be, but the pass blocking was questionable at times as well. There were many moments during the final drive where it looked like Bazelak was going to get sacked for a loss, but he got the ball out on time and completed the pass.

In addition, Indiana’s starting right guard Matthew Bedford is going to miss the rest of the season with an ACL tear, Allen announced in his weekly press conference Monday. The Big Ten poses some very dangerous defensive lines, so there will need to be a lot of improvement in this area in order to succeed this season.

Keep Tom Allen in charge of calling the defense

Allen has taken back the reins of the defensive play calling after former defensive coordinator Charlton Warren left after one year to North Carolina. To me, I think this move may help Indiana’s defense this year, knowing how experienced Allen is on the defensive side of the ball.

Cam Jones really stood out to me in this game, and you could see his potential for this season just on Illinois’ first drive. Jones recorded a tackle for loss and a sack on back-to-back plays, while sending the Hoosier crowd into eruption. The Hoosiers needed someone to step up in their linebacking corps after Micah McFadden was drafted to the New York Giants, and they may have found just that.

As a whole, holding a team to 20 points after they had just put up 38 the week before is pretty impressive. Yes, Chase Brown had almost 200 yards on the ground, but the defense still held its own and forced a couple of big turnovers late in the game. It will be interesting to see how this defense progresses throughout the season.

Overall, I thought it was a good performance from the Hoosiers. This was an important game that Allen and company needed to win after a dreadful 2021 season. Winning their first Big Ten game in nearly two years, it will be interesting to see how Friday night’s win boosts this team’s confidence going into Saturday’s game against Idaho and beyond.

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