Indiana finally lifted the weight of the world off its shoulders. Having won its first football game in 342 days, and its first Big Ten win in 636 days, the Hoosiers finally have a sense of relief.
Not so fast. While the win provided a much-needed momentum boost for the program, the Hoosiers are not out of the woods just because they got the win. While there were some really good signs for the rest of the season, there were also plenty of concerns. Here’s what I picked up from the game:
Indiana found its quarterback in Connor Bazelak
Redshirt junior and Missouri transfer quarterback Connor Bazelak put on quite a show in his Indiana debut. He threw for 330 yards and a touchdown and looked good doing so. His lone touchdown was a beautiful 52-yard throw to senior D.J. Matthews, and he spread the ball all over the field.
And then there’s the obvious: a near-perfect two-minute drill on Indiana’s last drive to give the Hoosiers the lead with 23 seconds remaining. After struggling with injuries and poor play in 2020, quarterback play was not a concern in week one.
The offensive line consistently missed blocks
As great as Bazelak was, he cannot play consistently at that high of a level if he doesn’t have time to throw. That’s what happened during the second half before the 75-yard touchdown drive, the Hoosier offense had only 70 yards.
Along with Bazelak facing constant pressure, all Indiana could muster in the run game was 32 yards on 26 attempts. You won’t win many football games with those numbers, especially in the Big Ten. Worst of all, the most consistent offensive lineman, senior tackle Matthew Bedford, left with an injury in the third quarter. The line has a long way to go if Indiana is going to continue on a winning trend.
Indiana’s defense looks talented, but unpolished
It was an up-and-down night for the defense. The Hoosiers allowed 448 yards of offense, but they forced five turnovers. They missed several tackles, allowing big plays to break open for Illinois, but they got stops whenever they needed it most — the highlight being a momentum-shifting goal-line stand in the fourth quarter.
For being Indiana’s first game of the season, facing an excellent run game from a team who had already won in week zero, the Hoosiers looked relatively strong and really good down the stretch. Polish up the little things like finishing tackles, and the defense should return to its 2020 form.
Cam Jones will be a star this season
Jones, the senior linebacker, was all over the field last night. He totaled 12 tackles, a game-high, and broke through for a sack. Along with his efforts on the field, Indiana head coach Tom Allen described Jones as “the heart and soul” of the team.
Not trying to load him up with expectations, but one game in and he seems very capable of filling that role of NFL draftee Micah McFadden. If that’s so, the defense is in good hands.
Indiana’s ‘no-huddle’ offense is its best
I was curious to see how Indiana would look under new offensive coordinator Walt Bell, and this was an unexpected wrinkle. The Hoosiers went no-huddle early, and it was working, until they couldn’t convert a third down. Uncoincidentally, Indiana’s scoring drives were achieved through the up-tempo offense.
While it may be unrealistic to run the whole game, it should be implemented as much as possible. The 75-yard game-winning drive was run in this fashion, and the offense was absolutely rolling.