BLOOMINGTON-What a difference a year makes for Blake Powers and the Indiana football team.
Paced by a record-setting performance by Blake Powers and another 100-yard receiving day by James Hardy, Indiana picked up its fourth win in five tries with a 36-13 victory over Illinois (2-4/0-3) in front of 35,829 at Memorial Stadium. The win moved Indiana to 4-1 - marking the first time since 2001 that Indiana has won at least four games – and within two games of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 1994.
Powers completed 22-of-35 passes for 198 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 18 scoring throws on the year – a new Indiana single-season record. Antwaan Randle El held the previous mark, throwing for 17 in 1999. The 6-4, 235-pound sophomore – who shattered the single-season mark in just five games - has thrown at least three touchdowns in all five of the Hoosiers' games this season.
It was a much different feeling for Powers than the one he had after his last encounter with the Fighting Illini. Powers came off the bench in the third quarter of last year's game in Champaign with the Hoosiers leading, 22-14. But a 4-of-11 effort, including a pair of interceptions, helped the Illini overcome the deficit and pick up their first Big Ten win in nearly two years.
"I actually listened to the game on the radio and knew about it and what happened, but sure didn't talk to him about it," said IU Coach Terry Hoeppner, who was coaching at Miami (Ohio) at the time.
If last year's performance was in Powers' mind, it didn't show. Powers completed passes to eight different receivers and had his second straight four-touchdown performance at Memorial Stadium, matching the four scores he had in IU's 38-14 win over Kentucky.
"I knew Blake was going to come out and make plays," said Hoeppner. "He did a great job of leading our team and it gives us a lot of confidence."
Two of Powers' scoring throws went to Hardy, who finished with a season-high 10 catches for 118 yards. It was Hardy's fourth 100-yard receiving game on the season, and it marked the fifth straight game Hardy has caught at least one touchdown. The 6-7, 215-pound redshirt freshman now has seven touchdowns on the season, all coming from Powers.
"Sometimes we know what each other is thinking," said Powers. "James is a great guy to throw to. He's 50 percent of the reason we have thrown for so many touchdowns. There is chemistry there."
Hardy's first score came on a seven-yard, acrobatic one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone late in the first half to give Indiana a 21-10 lead. Hardy then put the game away with an eight-yard scoring pass from Powers with 4:04 remaining to put Indiana on top, 34-13.
While the second score was the one that put the game away, the first was the one that gave Indiana some much needed momentum heading into halftime. Illinois had cut Indiana's lead to 14-10, but a Tracy Porter interception, followed soon afterwards by Powers' scoring toss to Hardy, put Indiana back in front by double digits.
"You throw it up and he's 6-7, and he makes a great catch," said Powers. "He's really something special. When you have guys like that, it makes (the quarterback position) pretty easy."
Indiana also got a big game from tailback Chris Taylor, who finished with 132 yards on 18 carries, including a 12-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
"When you have the run game going and the pass game going, it opens up a lot of things," said Taylor.
While Saturday's contest was a game that Indiana never trailed, it was a game that Indiana didn't put away until the fourth quarter.
With Indiana leading 21-13 and Illinois moving the ball inside IU territory, Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic scrambled for a five-yard gain on a 3rd-and-6. He was met by IU safety Will Meyers, who forced a Brasic fumble. IU defensive tackle Charlie Emerson fell on the ball, thwarting a potential game-tying Illini drive.
"We're always trying to get big hits on people," said Meyers. "It's important from not only a turnover aspect, but an intimidation standpoint. If teams are going to run the ball, they better watch out – they might get hit."
Indiana quickly turned that turnover into points. Taylor went for 11 yards on a pass from Powers and then for another 27 on a run up the middle that he bounced outside. Powers then found Marcus Thigpen for an 18-yard touchdown pass that gave Indiana a 28-13 cushion.
Meyers, who led the Indiana defense with 11 tackles, wound up with a second turnover late in the contest, when he stepped in front of a Brasic pass and returned it 34 yards to the Illinois 2. A Josiah Sears fumble at the Illinois 1 prevented Indiana from turning that Illinois miscue into points, but it did put away a game that Indiana desperately needed to win to keep its bowl hopes alive and well.
Illinois was led by Brasic, who accounted for 230 yards through the air and another 34 on the ground.
Indiana-Taylor 18-132, Washington 15-47, Powers 8-13, Thigpen 1-8, Sears 5-5. Totals 47-205. Illinois- Thomas 11-46, Brasic 13-34, Halsey 4-18, Mendenhall 2-10, Davis 5-5. Totals 35-113.
Indiana-Powers 35-22-1 198. Illinois- Brasic 39-22-2 230.
Indiana-Hardy 10-118, Bailey 3-21, Taylor 3-16, Skelton 2-20, Thigpen 1-18, Walker-Roby 1-9, Sexton 1-1, Washington 1-(-5). Illinois-Ellis 7-76, Hudson 4-68, Bryant 3-42, McPhearson 2-18, Warren 2-13, Weil 1-17, Halsey 1-3, Mendenhall 1-0, Thomas 1-(-7).
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