Kellen Lewis did his best Antwaan Randle El impersonation Saturday.
In his first collegiate game action the 6-0, 177-pound redshirt freshman accounted for 316 yards of total offense to help the Hoosiers overcome a 23-7 halftime deficit and eventually pull out a 24-23 win over the Ball State Cardinals in Muncie.
With starter Blake Powers held out of the game with a sore ankle and back-up Graeme McFarland on the sidelines after Indiana's second possession with a shoulder injury, Lewis stepped the forefront – and into the spotlight.
"We had a talk before the game in the hotel because we were planning on playing him," said Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner. "I told Kellen ‘Get ready, man, this is going to be your first taste of real action and it's a good nervous because you get to play the game you love.' I'm really proud of the way he performed."
Ball State jumped out to the early 17-point lead behind the arm of fifth-year senior Joey Lynch, who led the Cardinals on touchdown drives on their first two possessions. Ball State kicker Brian Jackson added a 52-yard field goal to push the lead to 17-0 as the Hoosier offense had trouble moving the ball.
Lynch, the son of Indiana offensive coordinator Bill Lynch and brother of Indiana receiver coach Billy Lynch, finished the night 15-of-24 through the air for 246 yards and three touchdown passes. That included a 12-of-16, 202-yard effort in the first half.
The Cardinals picked up 330 total yards on the night, but only rushed for 41 yards against the Hoosiers. The IU defense also limited the Cardinals to 110 yards of offense in the second half.
"We vowed to a man that we believed we could win this game," said Hoeppner. "That was a true gut check. I give all the credit to Ball State, and Joey Lynch had one of the best first halves I have seen from a quarterback in a long time. But it was a great character check and second half for the Hoosiers.
"We'll learn a lot. We got tested, and we knew it all along, but now everyone else can see that this team is never going to quit."
Indiana showed signs of life on its third possession when Lewis used his arm and legs to get the Hoosiers in the red zone, but the drive stalled inside the 10-yard line. Austin Starr came in for a 25-yard field goal but missed to keep the Hoosiers scoreless.
It was the special teams that ultimately got the Hoosiers going. Marcus Thigpen got the Hoosiers on the board with a school record-tying 100-yard kickoff return late in the second quarter to cut the Ball State lead to 10, 17-7. It was the third time in Indiana history a Hoosier scored on 100-yard kickoff return and the second week in a row that Indiana returned a kick for score after Tracey Porter's returned a punt for 86 yards in the season opener against Western Michigan.
Despite the special teams play, the IU defense gave up a third touchdown pass to Lynch late in the first half as Ball State pushed the lead to 16, 23-7.
"You have to play with passion and fire and we didn't do that in the first half," said Hoeppner. "We missed too many tackles and it was amazing how Joey Lynch escaped and was able to make plays in the first half. Part of it was execution on their part, but we obviously stepped up our game in the second half."
Lewis led the Hoosiers on two scoring drives in the third quarter in which he showed both his speed and his arm. With Indiana trailing 23-7, Lewis led a 64-yard scoring drive that was capped by a 12-yard touchdown pass to James Hardy. The score was Hardy's first touchdown of the 2006 season and one of his three catches for the night.
Lewis found his own way into the end zone on the next drive. After throwing a 39-yard pass to Nick Polk for a big play, Lewis scored on a 23-yard quarterback draw to bring the Hoosiers within two, 23-21.
Indiana grabbed the lead early in the fourth quarter when Starr found redemption in the form of a 35-yard field goal, his new career long and the Indiana defense recovered from a rough first half where it gave 220 total yards and 23 points to shut out the Cardinals and hold them to just 110 total yards in the second half.
"They had a lot of emotion and not only that, they were executing in the first half on everything and we weren't. It came down to that," said Hoeppner. "In the second half we started making some plays and Kellen Lewis came in and made some huge plays."
The Hoosiers sputtered on offense in the first half, picking up just 77 total yards, but they rebounded in the second half with 296 yards of offense. Lewis finished the game 15-of-28 for 228 passing yards and also picked up 88 rushing yards and one touchdown on 12 carries.
"(Lewis) has had that ability from day one and now he's starting to be able to do it in the context of the offense," said Hoeppner. "He's a special player who has gotten so much better throwing the football, but he has also made a quantum leap in understanding and being able to manage a game. He did an exceptional job tonight."
Lewis Leads Hoosiers Past Cardinals
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