Greg Heban (9) posted 13 tackles and a fumble recovery in Indiana's 31-17 win at Illinois Saturday, a victory built in part by Indiana's often-criticized defense.
The corner Indiana said it was turning for more than a month finally appeared in the rear view mirror Saturday afternoon, as the Hoosiers down Illinois 31-17 in Champaign. It was coach Kevin Wilson’s first Big Ten win at IU, and the Hoosiers’ first conference victory since beating Purdue on the road to end the 2010 season.
Stephen Houston lit the scoreboard with three touchdowns — two on the ground, one through the air — but it was Indiana’s defense that sealed the victory with a three-point second-half performance.
IU allowed 196 rushing yards, but just 3.6 yards per carry. As importantly, when Illinois needed to pass the ball late in the game to move quickly and try to score, Indiana’s pass rush was unrelenting. The Hoosiers finished the game with seven sacks, more than half the total (13) that they’d tallied on the season coming into play Saturday.
Sudfeld, playing for the first time in two weeks, led a six-play, 73-yard touchdown drive that ended with a well-executed screen pass to Houston for a score that brought Indiana level at 14-all. Illinois would not lead again.
IU’s true freshman signal caller finished the game 10-of-15 through the air for 107 yards and two scores.
“It has been close, neck and neck. Cam just floated the ball in the middle, last week had a couple turnovers,” Wilson told the Big Ten Network postgame about his quarterback position. “Nate got the hot hand, played pretty well for us.”
Indiana would score again, on Houston’s second touchdown run of the day, and take a 21-14 lead into halftime. From there, IU’s defense took control.
After allowing a field goal on Illinois’ third drive of the second half, a kick that pulled the game to 24-17, Indiana would not let the Illini score again. Behind a more stout performance against the run after the intermission and, in particular, sacks and quarterback pressure that left Illinois signal caller Nate Scheelhaase reeling and shaken, Indiana closed out the last 17:33 of the game scoreless.
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Ryan Phillis’ sack on 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line essentially killed Illinois’ last potential scoring drive, and Sudfeld ran out the clock after Indiana weathered three more downs without an Illinois score.
“The kid’s are believing. They gave us a great effort, they gave us great fight,” Wilson said on IU’s postgame radio show, adding of the defense: “It’s nice to see those guys step up. They’ve been beleaguered and hung out to dry a few times, so I’m proud.”
Indiana found itself counting on familiar contributors defensively Saturday. Redshirt junior safety Greg Heban finished the afternoon with 13 tackles and a fumble recovery, while senior defensive tackle Adam Replogle had eight tackles, two for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
“We’re finally starting to click,” Replogle said to the Big Ten Network. “It feels amazing. We’re starting to get things rolling.”
After struggling to move the ball through much of the second half, Indiana finally found the rhythm it had missed on a six-play, 60-yard drive to the end zone. The drive built its foundation on tough running from D’Angelo Roberts and Isaiah Roundtree, which set up a well-executed play action pass to Shane Wynn, wide open at the back of the end zone, to seal the game away.
Indiana returns home next weekend to face Iowa. Now 3-5, the Hoosiers have lost four games this year by a combined 10 points. Wilson was quietly bullish on his team’s potential, with four games left in a season that now finally has the proved-it win Indiana has been searching for since mid-September.
“I don’t think we’re a losing team,” Wilson said. “We take care of the ball, we win in the kicking game. We keep working hard, it’s gonna keep coming.”