BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Sloppy play and questionable calls led to Illinois’ first defeat of the season on Friday night.
Big Ten football was back in full fledge at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington as a near 4-hour game ended in a 23-20 Indiana win.
With just more than two minutes left in the game, Caleb Griffin hit a career-long 48-yard field goal, putting the Illini (1-1, 0-1 Big Ten) up 20-16.
Indiana’s offense, which hadn’t done much of anything in the second half (70 total yards), shot out of a cannon as QB Connor Bazelak and company were able to drive the Hoosiers (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) down the field for a score with only 23 seconds to go. When the Illini got the ball back, they couldn’t get it past midfield for a chance at a game-tying kick.
But the disappointment started well before that: Bret Bielema’s team really shot itself in the foot in the first half, with dropped passes and long balls being the Trojan horse that gave Indiana an edge.
Ryan Walters’ Illini defense looked very good on the first two Hoosier plays from scrimmage — including one of the hardest hits you’ll possibly see this season by DB Devon Witherspoon — but Hoosiers QB Connor Bazelak was able to connect on one of his many long balls on the night shortly after (a 40-yard completion to WR Cam Camper).
While that only led to a field goal to make it 3-0 Hoosiers — Illinois’ first deficit of the season — that would only be one of the first defensive gaps the Hoosiers (1-0, 1-0 Big Ten) found. Later in the half, Bazelak found D.J. Matthews for a 52-yard score, giving the Hoosiers a 10-7 lead.
Illinois QB Tommy DeVito was trying to match, and early on he did. He found Isaiah Williams for a 5-yard shuffle pass on an early score.
DeVito also had a near-TD when he found Brian Hightower in the corner of the endzone. Upon review, the call on the field (incomplete) stood, and Illinois (1-1, 0-1 Big Ten) settled for a redzone field goal.
In the second half, Illinois came alive a bit more. At least at the start.
On Indiana’s first possession of the half, Kendall Smith pulled off his first-career interception (aided by a costly drop, this time by the Hoosiers).
Hightower then got some redemption, hit by DeVito for a quick score to retake the lead at 17-16.
That score — the only one in the third quarter — seemed like it would be big (spoiler, it really wasn't).
On its ensuing possessions, Illinois turned the ball over a backwards pass by DeVito to Chase Brown. The Illini then got stood up on a 4th-and-goal try at the 1-yard-line (with a chance to go up by 4 which really came back to bite the Illini). And then DeVito threw his first pick of the season.
The defense was stout up until that last drive, but just too many small mistakes made the difference in the loss.
The Illini have now lost the last 4 matchups against the Hoosiers.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
- Tight end Luke Ford had a fumble late in the first quarter that set the Hoosiers up in Illini territory. Ryan Walters’ defense made nothing of it and the Hoosiers ended up punting.
- The first two punts by punter Hugh Robertson only added up for a total of 35 yards. The second of the two punts led to the next Hoosier touchdown. We sort of miss Blake Hayes.
- On the drive where it looked like Brian Hightower made the catch for a touchdown, wide receiver Pat Bryant — on the next play — dropped what also would have been a touchdown catch (on a pass from Chase Brown too go figure). As mentioned above, the Illini only ended up with a field goal on that drive.
- Bret Bielema decides to go for it on 4-and-goal at the Indiana 1-yard line and gets stood up. The Illini would have increased the lead to 20-16 had they just kicked the field goal. It would have also meant the game would have been tied at 23 after the late Hoosier score.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Devon Witherspoon’s MONSTER hit.
Another look at that MASSIVE hit from @IlliniFootball's Witherspoon pic.twitter.com/G82D2BW2qI— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 3, 2022
Brian Hightower’s touchdown reception.
FIGHTING ILLINI TOUCHDOWN! @longlivee14 punches it in! @IlliniFootball pic.twitter.com/4LV8gz03v8— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 3, 2022
OL Alex Palczewski started for the 54th time in his career, tying for 13th all-time in college football history and third all-time in Big Ten history.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 3, 2022
Brown has back-to-back games with 150 rushing yards or more, the first Illinois running back to do so since Reggie Corbin from Oct. 27, - Nov. 3, 2018. He is also the first Illini running back since at least 1944 to open a season with back-to-back games with at least 150 yards.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 3, 2022
TWEET OF THE GAME
Even though we lost, this is still hilarious.
an IU education at work pic.twitter.com/alPResWL8w— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) September 3, 2022
The Illini will be back in Champaign next Saturday for a revenge game against the Virginia Cavaliers.
Kickoff will be at 3 p.m. CT on ESPNU.