CHAMPAIGN, IL. — Indiana football began its season giving up 23 points against then No. 3 Ohio State but scored just 3 points. A quarterback carousel and an offensive coordinator later, the Hoosiers surrendered 48 points to Illinois — who entered Saturday’s contest a modest 4-5.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brendan Sorsby willed his team to a 27-26 lead at halftime, going 11-of-15 for 158 yards alongside a pair of passing touchdowns and a rushing score. Despite the loss, the signal-caller showed promise against the Illini.
“Brendan Sorsby showed the kind of special player he can be doing some much better things offensively,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said postgame.
The Hoosiers’ defense, though, did the opposite.
Leading up to Saturday it was unclear if Illinois’ sophomore quarterback Luke Altmeyer would suit up in its matchup against Indiana after sustaining a concussion against Minnesota on Nov. 4. After Altmeyer was deemed to be unavailable, Ball State University transfer John Paddock started for the Illini.
“We planned for both,” Allen said. “We watched film on the one that ended up playing; obviously didn’t know he was gonna play. You obviously gotta prepare for both. [We] made phone calls trying to find out as much about him as we could. Watched all of his film from [Ball State].”
Illinois began the game going three-and-out — losing two yards — and was forced to punt. Despite averaging 4.6 punts per game, the Illini went on to punt twice as many against the Hoosiers.
Not only did Indiana fail to secure crucial stops on defense throughout the contest, but it repeatedly allowed explosive plays. Entering Saturday, Illini quarterbacks averaged just over 11 yards per completion. But against Indiana, Paddock averaged 21.1 yards per completion in Illinois’ offensive outburst, scoring 18 points more than its previous high of 30 on Sept. 2.
“Obviously [Paddock] had a career day,” Allen said. “It was at our expense.”
While Indiana was in a must-win scenario Saturday if it wanted to continue its hopes of gaining bowl eligibility, the Hoosiers’ defense broke down.
Although they continuously allowed explosive plays, sixth-year senior linebacker Jacob Mangum-Farrar felt that the defense let the Illini move the ball at will.
“It was a lot of Indiana beating Indiana, honestly,” Mangum-Farrar said postgame. “Just breakdowns and busted coverages or somebody didn’t get the call. It was rarely ‘Oh this guy just beat me.’ I feel like we gave them a lot of stuff.”
Despite allowing 36 total sacks in nine contests prior to Saturday, Illinois’ offensive line surrendered just one sack against the Hoosiers.
“They were just going max pro a lot because they gave up 36 sacks this season so they knew they were weak at that point,” Mangum-Farrar said. “They had a lot of max pro tight end and the back in for pass protection.”
With Paddock having more than enough time to stand in the pocket, he picked apart Indiana’s injury-ravaged secondary.
“We just couldn’t keep pressure on him and that was the issue,” Allen said. “He was able to throw with nobody in his face much and that was not really what we wanted to be able to do.”
Although Indiana’s offense capped off a six-play, 85-yard drive with Sorsby’s 26-yard passing touchdown to fifth-year senior DeQuece Carter to force overtime, the Hoosiers’ only drive in overtime resulted in a field goal.
Despite Sorsby willing Indiana to overtime with 25-yard and 26-yard completions in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, Indiana offensive coordinator Rod Carey called three consecutive runs in overtime.
“As a quarterback, I obviously want to throw the ball a little bit,” Sorsby said postgame. “The draw worked on that last [4th quarter] drive — I had a couple good runs. Maybe we saw something in the defense that we liked, and the draw was there and maybe I just missed the hole, I don’t know.”
With the loss, Indiana’s hopes of reaching a bowl game are now out of the picture, but with a pair of trophy games ahead for the Hoosiers, there’s still much to play for.
“Still two trophy games left,” Sorsby said. “Two rivalry games. We gotta go beat them and I’m confident in this team and I think we will.”