In a class of up-tempo offenses, Indiana came back from behind and defeated Western Kentucky University in overtime at home, 33-30. With the win, the Hoosiers denied the Hilltoppers revenge from last year’s game.
Before Saturday, Western Kentucky was 0-8 against Big Ten teams in its program history, including four losses coming against Indiana. For the majority of the game, it seemed the Hilltoppers would notch their first win.
Consistency was a focal point throughout practice and preparation for Indiana’s game against Western Kentucky. For the first time this season, Indiana would play football during the day as opposed to at night. After falling asleep under the lights it appears Saturday, the Hoosiers slept in to start the game.
The matchup between the Hoosiers and the Hilltoppers Saturday afternoon pitted two similar offenses riding on different trajectories against each other. Both offenses operated at an up-tempo pace, Indiana’s average drive length was 1:49 while Western Kentucky’s was 1:58.
Both teams came into this matchup 2-0, but the differences were apparent. Western Kentucky scored 87 total points compared to Indiana’s 58 through the first two games. Each team’s red zone efficiencies differed as well. The Hoosiers scored on just four of seven red zone drives — scoring a touchdown on three. The Hilltoppers scored on eight of their ten red zone drives, with a touchdown on seven.
The up-tempo play was displayed by both teams early on with 15 different drives occurred in the first half. Eight drives took less than two minutes, including two touchdown drives. Not a single drive exceeded four and a half minutes.
On many occasions in the first half, it appeared Indiana got beat by its own style of play. After its offense tired out its opponents’ defenses to start the year, the Hoosiers' defense were the ones tired from graduate student quarterback Austin Reed and the Hilltoppers' offense.
At the end of the first half, the connection between the opposing team’s offenses was better than the connection between the offense and defense on each team. Redshirt junior quarterback Connor Bazelak had 221 yards compared to Reed’s 220. Indiana had 33 rushing yards while Western Kentucky totaled 31 yards.
In search of a second-half comeback, Western Kentucky answered Indiana’s opening-half field goal with a touchdown on the next drive. After Western Kentucky found itself at Indiana’s 9-yard line late in the third quarter, it appeared that one more score would be the knockout punch.
Although, in a pair of plays that were pivotal in the game, the Hoosiers intercepted a ball inside the endzone and then recovered a forced fumbled inside Western Kentucky’s 20-yard line
“We got to get better. We are going to get better” senior linebacker Cam Jones said after the game. “We built different. We some dogs.”
Bazelak would find Camper on the potential game-tying drive, with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. After scoring, Indiana would convert the 2-point conversion for the first time this season to tie the game at 30 with 47 seconds remaining in the game.
Yet another late-game scoring drive from Bazelak would be overshadowed by Reed’s ability to march the Hilltoppers offense down and set up a potential game-winning field goal. Although the kick sailed right and missed the goal posts to give Indiana life headed into overtime.
“I love the grit of this football team,” head coach Tom Allen said. “I love the perseverance.” It was apparent that as soon as “Let's Go!” came out of Jones’ mouth after winning the overtime coin toss — the momentum was on Hoosiers’ side.
A quick three and out led to another field goal attempt that senior cornerback Jaylin Williams was able to get to and block, which lead to an eventual game-winning field goal for Indiana to secure the win.
“There is a plan to keep the fans in the stands, so if it goes until the last play, then they got tostay,” Allen said after the game.
Despite Indiana’s 484 total yards of offense, Western Kentucky led with 545 total yards. However, the Hilltoppers costly turnovers and missed opportunities gave the Hoosiers a chance in the end.
Instead of focusing on the Hoosiers’ leading receivers, junior Cam Camper and graduate student DJ Matthews, Bazelak found 12 different receivers on the field to widen the attack.
“We got a lot of guys that can make plays,” Bazelak said. “When you go fast like we do, it's always good to have fresh legs.”
Indiana ended the game six of seven in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on three. It was one of the few offensive stats in which the Hoosiers outdid the Hilltoppers.
Indiana was able to absorb the punches on both sides of the ball, but holes in the Hoosiers’ offense and defense were greatly exposed. Indiana met its match on the offensive side, and Western Kentucky likely did the upbeat tempo offense better.
“Trust me,” Bazelak said. “You’ll see better football from us down the road.”
This game could be argued as a must-win for Indiana, as it will go onto play four ranked Big Ten opponents later this year, two of which on the road. Its next test comes next week against the University of Cincinnati in another revenge game on the flip side for the Hoosiers in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“We’re 3-0 with a lot of things to improve on,” said Allen. “We're not even close to playing our best football.”