With 2 minutes and 16 seconds remaining in the game and in need of the touchdown, there were few people in the stadium who thought Indiana would score. They were 75 yards away, and having already missed several opportunities already, the outlook wasn’t good.
Connor Bazelak, though, had other plans. The junior transfer from University of Missouri — who had not been announced as the starting quarterback until game time — stepped up when it mattered.
[Related: BREAKING: Indiana football names redshirt junior Connor Bazelak starting quarterback]
Bazelak went seven of ten in the final march down the field, making up 70 of the 75 yards through the air. He then used his legs to pick up four more yards to get Indiana to the 1-yard line, where senior running back Shaun Shivers punched it in with 23 seconds on the clock, sealing a victory over Illinois.
This wasn’t Bazelak’s first time coming up clutch. On Dec. 5, 2020, as the starting quarterback Missouri, the Tigers were tied with the University of Arkansas at 40 apiece in the fourth quarter. Bazelak took over, commanding the Tigers to an 80-yard touchdown drive in just 86 seconds to take the lead.
After Arkansas responded and took a lead of its own, Bazelak proved himself again by taking the Tigers 60 yards in 40 seconds to set up the game-winning field goal.
Coincidentally, the same day Bazelak led the comeback for Missouri, Indiana defeated Wisconsin 14-6 in what was its last Big Ten victory prior to tonight.
If this can be expected of Bazelak in the future, the Hoosiers will be happy with their starting quarterback selection.
However, that isn't to say all went perfectly with the game. While the win is a nice morale boost, if said concerns aren’t addressed Bazelak’s stellar play may not matter.
For a large portion of the game, the offensive line looked like swiss cheese. Although they only allowed one sack, Bazelak faced pressure all night which gave him little time to create any offense. The run game was practically non-existent all night, largely in part to a lack of blocking.
Before Bazelak led the comeback, Indiana’s second-half offense was hardly present. The Hoosiers collected just 70 yards in the second half, only crossing midfield once before the final drive.
Defensively, Indiana played extremely inconsistently. The Hoosiers allowed 448 yards, including 199 on the ground from Illinois junior running back Chase Brown. There were several big-chunk plays allowed and many missed tackles, as Brown and the Illini often slipped right through the arms of Indiana defenders.
The bright spot of the defense was forcing turnovers. Indiana forced four fumbles, recovered three and made a crucial interception in the fourth quarter. Most importantly, there was a fourth quarter goal-line stand at the 1-yard line to keep the deficit at one possession.
When it comes down to it, a win is a win. Indiana was lucky to have escaped with that outcome, especially in a Big Ten game. The Hoosiers have a long way to go, but as for now only one thing can be said: Indiana football is undefeated and atop the Big Ten.