WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana matched a school record with 650 total yards and scored 17 unanswered points to hold off Illinois 52-35 in front of 44,882 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
With the victory, the Hoosiers improve to 4-5 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten, matching last season’s win totals for both total and conference victories. They still need two wins for bowl eligibility, however, which will require a win on the road against either Wisconsin or Ohio State. Illinois has lost 19 straight conference games and falls to 3-6, 0-5.
The Hoosiers 650 yards matches a record set in 1994 in a game at Kentucky.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Indiana tailbacks Tevin Coleman and Stephen Houston became the first IU players since 2000 to rush for over 150 yards in the same game. They are the first tailbacks ever to both rush for 100 yards in back-to-back weeks. The last time the Hoosiers posted two rushers over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks was in 1968, but it wasn’t the same two backs both times. Robert Pernell and Rick Thompson went over 100 on Sept. 21, 1968, and the following week Pernell and John Isenbarger both broke 100.
Coleman rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. His two touchdowns were both highlight reel worthy, coming from 64 and 75 yards out. He sprained his ankle late in the game, however. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said he was not certain yet of the severity of the injury, and he will continue to be evaluated.
Houston rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 carries. Both of his TD runs were 2-yard scores, but the second was critical, putting the Hoosiers up 49-35 with 11:00 to go.
The running game helped open up the pass. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld completed 20 of his 27 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns against one ugly interception. He connected with junior Cody Latimer on all three scores, and Latimer caught 11 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver Shane Wynn caught three passes for 52 yards, but one of them was the catch of the day. On a deep out route. he laid out for a pass on the sideline that was ruled out of bounds initially. However, replay showed that he had dropped one of his legs inbounds and dragged it just enough for it to be ruled a reception. It would eventually lead to an 11-yard touchdown to Latimer.
For Illinois, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 450 yards and two touchdowns and wide receiver Steve Hull caught nine passes for 224 yards and two scores.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: This was the explosive Indiana offense at its most potent. Last week was the first time the Hoosiers broke 200 yards on the ground this season against a Big Ten opponent, but on Saturday, they went far past that, finishing with 371 yards, the most in a game since 2001.
Coleman and Houston were certainly a huge part of that. It’s become evident that Coleman is very good at finding holes, and if he gets in the open field, there is simply no stopping him. Houston complements him as well as a downhill runner, and he has more than enough speed to combine with his power. The Hoosiers hadn’t made as much of a point this season to get him the ball, but in the last two weeks, it’s very much paid off.
A significant amount of credit, though, has to go to the Indiana offensive line, which has been ravaged by injuries all season. Right guard Dan Feeney and right tackle Peyton Eckert were both supposed to start after starting last season, but both suffered season-ending injuries before they so much as got on the field. Backup right guard Jake Reed has been dealing with an ankle injury and center Collin Rahrig hurt his back this week, missing a game for the first time this season.
However, center Wes Rogers stepped in to Rahrig’s place and had a solid game and redshirt freshman right guard Jacob Bailey and redshirt sophomore Ralston Evans have been stellar on the right side of the line. In the last two weeks, they’ve opened up massive holes for Coleman and Houston to run through and it’s opened up the entire field.
With that much working well on the run, it was easy for Sudfeld and Latimer to connect. The Illini tried covering Latimer man-to-man and that simply wasn’t going to work. Latimer scorched his man repeatedly and Sudfeld put the ball on the money, making the Hoosiers simply look like a video game offense.
Some amount of credit — stressing the word some and not much — has to go to the Indiana defense. Yes, really.
The Hoosier defense is still very much in a position where it has to dial 1 to reach mediocre, but all that can really be asked of them week to week is that just once or twice a game, they come up with a stop when they absolutely have to have it. The IU offense can go score, for score with just about anyone, so the defense can get beat more than a few times and still have a chance to make a difference late.
And on Saturday, when the defense absolutely had to do it’s job, it did. For most of the game, it was nothing short of abysmal, surrendering 612 yards of total offense. Both of Hull’s touchdown receptions were particularly embarrassing for the Hoosiers with no one anywhere in his congressional district on the 54-yard score with 11:33 to go. The Illini converted on 11 of 19 third downs, including a third-and-22 at one point, and they allowed four drives to go more than 70 yards.
But after Coleman’s 75-yard touchdown run, the Hoosiers needed to make a stop to keep the advantage and they did, forcing Illinois to surrender the ball on downs when the Illini ran an ill-advised fake punt and Indiana took over on the Illinois 37 yard line. It only took Indiana two runs from Houston to go up 49-35. The Illini drove down to the Indiana 33 and still had time to make a comeback, but the Hoosiers came through again on defense, causing a turnover on downs. Again, 612 yards is not a good performance, but with an offense that can score 52 points, it actually counts as serviceable.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The biggest, most insurmountable hurdles to an Indiana bowl trip are still out there. The Hoosiers still have to play Wisconsin and Ohio State on the road and it doesn’t appear much any more likely that Indiana will be able to swing an upset in one of those games this week than it did last week.
Still, this win was important for the Hoosiers on a number of levels. For one thing, it shows that they still have life and don’t consider their season over even though the general consensus is that they’re not going to be able to pull off one of those upsets. That’s important for IU fans, but also for the atmosphere in the locker room. Last week was rough for the Hoosiers and they couldn’t afford for it to get worse.
But more importantly, this win was important for Kevin Wilson’s coaching staff in terms of showing progress in the program. If Indiana fails to make a bowl game, this season will be considered on some level a disappointment, because many fans were starting to get their hopes up, especially with eight home games this season. And the Minnesota loss will stick in the minds of fans for a long time. But by beating Illinois, the Hoosiers matched their win totals for overall and conference wins from last season, when they were 4-8, 2-6. Even if the Hoosiers don’t pull an upset against either Wisconsin or Ohio State, they still have Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game to kick around. If the Hoosiers finish 5-7, they can at least claim a slight uptick and take some level of momentum into the 2014 season.
WHO SAID WHAT: Kevin Wilson
“I’m happy for our guys to get a win. Last week was pretty tough emotionally, and we’ve been working really hard. We talk a lot about bouncing back from adversity and showing improvement, and I think the way they handled themselves and the way our coaches coached this week was a positive sign for where this team is going to go.”
On Tevin Coleman
“Him and Steve are big-time, man. They’re such good teammates, too. It’s fun to play with them. I said this Penn State week. I hand it off to Tevin, I see him make one cut and I just point in the air. I know it’s a touchdown, because no one’s going to catch him.”
On Cody Latimer
“He’s an exceptional athlete. Just a big-time wide receiver. They were trying to man him up a lot during the game, so it was just a match-up issue. He was just making big plays and catching the ball every time it came his way.”
On the run game
“That opens up the pass a lot. The balance of pass-run game is what you need in an offense like ours. Once we get to clicking, there’s no stopping us.”
“I think it says a lot about our team. Coach always talks about three phases, offense, defense, special teams. I think we came out this game a lot better than we did last week. We had a little chip on our shoulder this week, realizing that last week’s game got away from us a little bit. We still have three games, we need to win two of them to get where we need to be.”