With nine players – including two starters on defense – suspended for its season-opener, Indiana would have to rely on the offense heavily.
Despite its defense yielding 659 total yards of offense, Indiana held on to defeat Southern Illinois 48-47 Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
"Fortunate to win," Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said. "But at the same time I think I told the team afterwards, I was kind of concerned, like don't take victory for granted."
Senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld completed 19-of-32 passes for 349 yards and one touchdown in a game that was closer that most fans probably expected.
With 2:30 remaining in regulation and the game tied at 41, Indiana started on its own 17-yard line. Sudfeld connected to redshirt junior wide receiver Ricky Jones on a deep 71-yard pass to set the Hoosiers up at the Southern Illinois one-yard line.
From there, Howard punched it in for his third rushing touchdown of the day and to put Indiana ahead 48-41.
Indiana’s defense also seemed to have a bend don’t break mentality. Southern Illinois’ offense twice broke open long-yardage touchdown plays, with scoring plays of 80 and 68 yards in the game.
"We just got a few guys clean, really cleaned up," Wilson said. "Again, I think if we can eliminate those big plays, which we should, you'll see the defense better than it has been, should be, will be."
Southern Illinois pulled within one on a 25-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Mark Iannotti to wide receiver Jimmy Jones and went for two. Iannotti’s pass intended for wide receiver Connor Iwema on the two-point try was broken up by Markus Oliver to preserve the win for the Hoosiers.
"My hear was not really churning because I was putting all my faith in my defense," Howard said when asked about the two-point attempt. "I knew they could get the job done."
Indiana returns to action next Saturday with a home game against Florida International. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
"For what (they) did, and the circumstances you were in, and to make some plays at the end, to get the victory is encouraging, something we are going to build on," Wilson said.