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Indiana quarterback Connor Bazelak prepares for a snap during Indiana's win over Illinois on Sept. 2. (HN photo/Max Wood)
Indiana quarterback Connor Bazelak prepares for a snap during Indiana's win over Illinois on Sept. 2. (HN photo/Max Wood)

Indiana, Connor Bazelak make enough plays to beat Illinois in season opener

A dramatic fourth-quarter drive put IU in the win column

In Connor Bazelak’s first game as an Indiana Hoosier, we sure saw some promise. Bazelak went 28-for-52 with 330 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and led the game-winning drive to give IU the 23-20 win over Illinois. 

“There’s a lot of power in finding a way to win a game like that,” head coach Tom Allen said. “[There’s] so many positives that it creates for your team, the belief.”

All week, there have been questions about who will start at quarterback for Indiana in Friday night’s game against Illinois. But Allen decided to go with Missouri transfer Bazelak, and he showed flashes of being a very capable quarterback this year at IU.

Bazelak made his presence known early on in the game, as he threw a 40-yard pass to Cam Camper on Indiana’s third play from scrimmage. Camper looks like he’s a contender for Bazelak’s favorite receiver, as he led IU with five receptions and 100 yards.

After a few empty possessions, Bazelak once again sent the Hoosier crowd into hysteria. A 52-yard pass to DJ Matthews helped put the Hoosiers up 10-7 with 10:43 left to go in the first half. Matthews is also a guy that Bazelak has found to be one of his favorites.

Bazelak’s shining moments came with a few bad ones. An interception on Indiana's first drive of the second half opened the door for the Illini to punch it in the endzone and take the lead, 17-16. This was the start of a very quiet second half offensively for the Hoosiers.

Indiana could not get the run game going against Illinois for most of the second half, but tried to get it going all game. This put Bazelak and the rest of the offense in a tough position, as they were forced into third-and-longs consistently.

Despite the offense having a quiet second half, the defense helped Indiana stay in the game. There were a couple of memorable moments in the fourth quarter where Indiana held strong and gave the crowd hope that they could pull this one out.

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

Most notably, the Hoosiers denied Illini running back Chase Brown, who finished with 188 yards in the game, three separate times and kept the score at a 1-point game. The very next possession, Josh Sanguinetti intercepted Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito and gave the Hoosiers life heading into a critical fourth quarter. Allen says he liked the defensive effort, but there can be improvements.

“[I’m] proud of some things about [our defense],” Allen said. “[I] saw some signs of it, not nearly close to being satisfied with it, but a good starting point.”

While the offense stayed silent during most of the second half, it came up when it mattered most. A 75-yard drive with two minutes to go, which ended in a Shaun Shivers touchdown, ultimately put the Hoosiers over the Illini, giving Indiana its first win of the season.

Indiana stands at 1-0 with its next game against Idaho in eight days. The Hoosiers defeated the Vandals convincingly last year, but with the hire of new head coach Jason Eck, look for this Vandal team to have a lot more tempo than last year’s team.

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