BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Connor Bazelak took Indiana on a 75-yard scoring march on its final series and Shaun Shivers capped it by scoring on a 1-yard run with 23 seconds left to give the Hoosiers a 23-20 victory over Illinois on Friday night.
Indiana’s season-opening victory snapped an eight-game losing streak and a nine-game skid in Big Ten play. Bazelak finished 28-of-52 passing for 330 yards and one TD in his Hoosiers debut.
It was a frustrating finish for the Illini, who allowed only 70 yards in the second half before the final series.
Chase Brown ran for 199 yards and Tommy DeVito threw two touchdown passes for Illinois (1-1, 0-1). Brown became the first Illinois player to open a season with consecutive 100-yard games since 1944.
And yet it still wasn’t enough to prevail in this slugfest.
Brown lost one of two fumbles, multiple players were injured and a series of replay reviews that brought the second-half to a stalemate that featured just one score — DeVito’s go-ahead 16-yard TD pass to Brian Hightower early in the third quarter — until the final 2 1/2 minutes.
While Indiana struggled to stop the run, Bazelak carved up the Illinois secondary in the first half and again on the final drive. His first completion as a Hoosier went for 40 yards — more than Illinois yielded in last weekend’s entire game.
Bazelak, the former Missouri starter, added three more completions of 24 or more yards during the first two quarters including a 52-yard TD pass to D.J. Matthews Jr. that helped Indiana take a 16-10 halftime lead.
His first pass in the third quarter, though, bounced off the hands of receiver Andison Coby and was picked off by Kendall Smith. Five plays later, Hightower lunged across the goal line to put Illinois up 17-16.
Bazelak answered with beautiful clock management to get Indiana into the end zone.
Illinois: This one inexplicably got away. The offense dominated the game in total yardage and possession time while the defense allowed just 32 yards rushing. Normally, it would be a perfect script for the Illini. They just couldn’t close it out.
Indiana: Linebacker Cam Jones challenged his teammates during the offseason and again Friday and the defense responded. If the Hoosiers continue to play this tenaciously, they’ll be competitive every week. The bigger question: Can the offense find its way consistently?
Illinois: The Illini welcome Virginia to Champaign, Illinois, on Sept. 10.
Indiana: The Hoosiers host Idaho on Sept. 10.