Upon Further Review - the Illinois Game

Austin Starr and Marcus Thigpen were Saturday's Hoosier heroes, but HoosierNation.com takes an in-depth look at how Indiana performed in all facets of the 34-32 win over Illinois in Champaign...

Rushing offense – B+

The Hoosiers were out-gained by the Illini 209-149 on the ground, but it was clearly their best effort running the ball all season. Marcus Thigpen and Josiah Sears have emerged as IU's two primary ball carriers and both had solid afternoons. Thigpen ran for 91 yards on 13 carries, including a big 44-yard run in the first quarter that helped set up IU's first score. Sears, meanwhile, provided a nice complement, delivering some punishing runs while adding 29 yards on seven carries and two first-half touchdowns. The only real negative was a Sears fumble on an option pitch that contributed to one of Illinois' early scores. Indiana's much-maligned offensive line had its best day opening holes for the ground game as well. Rodger Saffold is getting comfortable at left tackle, while another true freshman, Pete Saxon, is getting more time at left guard. Saxon, center Justin Frye and right guard Jonathan Sandberg are doing a much better job inside and are giving IU's tailbacks a chance to produce some positive plays between the tackles.

Notable: Indiana averaged 4.5 yards/rush, a marked improvement from the 3.1 it averaged in the season's first five weeks. Indiana's average would have been much better were it not for a couple of errant shotgun snaps that resulted in -18 yards added to the Hoosiers' rushing total. Indiana entered the week ranked last in the Big Ten by a wide margin in yards/carry – its 3.1 average was a full yard worse than the next two in the conference, Iowa and Wisconsin (each averaging 4.1 yards/carry).

Passing offense – B+

Kellen Lewis completed 20-of-39 passes for 240 yards and spread his throws around to eight different receivers. Instead of looking deep downfield, Lewis appeared to focus primarily on hitting his wideouts on underneath routes and then allowing them to produce yards after the catch, something the likes of Nick Polk and Ray Fisher did a very nice job of on a couple of occasions. Lewis was particularly good on IU's game-winning drive, completing 5-of-6 passes to four different receivers for 60 yards, setting up Austin Starr's game-winning 33-yard field goal. It was also a very positive sign to see James Hardy become more involved in the IU attack. Hardy had only one catch for five yards in the first half, but bounced back with a four-catch, 62-yard second half. He didn't produce the sort of big plays that he did a season ago, but appeared to be more in synch with Lewis in the second half, which should bode well for the coming weeks.

Notable: The Hoosiers have now gone 15 quarters without a passing touchdown. In his first career start Kellen Lewis hooked up with Nick Polk for an eight-yard score in the first quarter of the Southern Illinois game, but IU is without a throwing score since. In the last 15 quarters the Hoosiers have scored six rushing touchdowns and three times on special teams.

Rushing defense – C-

For the fourth straight game, the Hoosier defense surrendered at least 200 yards on the ground. Illinois piled up 209 yards on 38 carries, averaging a 5.5 yards/carry. Pierre Thomas was the primary ball carrier with 126 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, but Isiah Williams (10 carries, 53 yards) and Rashard Mendenhall (5 carries, 29 yards) also had solid afternoons. The one redeeming fact was IU was much better against the run in the decisive fourth quarter. Illinois managed just 32 yards on 10 carries in the final period, and Jake Powers recorded three straight tackles against the run during Illinois' final possession that resulted in a three-and-out and a punt that gave IU a chance for its game-winning drive.

Notable: Indiana has allowed an opposing runner to eclipse the 100-yard mark in each of the past four weeks, and IU is just 1-3 in those games. A year ago, Indiana's defense allowed seven players to rush for at least 100 yards in 11 games, and the Hoosiers were 1-6 in those contests. Indiana did knock off Central Michigan 20-13 in the 2005 season opener in spite of a 14-carry, 148-yard evening for Ontario Sneed.

Passing defense – D+

Terry Hoeppner said he was going to make pass defense a priority in practice last week, but it didn't appear to have much of an impact early on. Juice Williams scorched the IU secondary in the first quarter, completing four of his first five passes for 165 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Williams' early completions went for 32, 35, 45 and 53 yards, sending Hoeppner into a tirade on the sidelines as he voiced his displeasure with the secondary's play. After that dismal start, though, Williams was just 6-of-16 for 25 yards the rest of the way. Other than a 25-yard touchdown pass from wideout DaJuan Warren to Jody Ellis on a third-quarter trick play, Indiana's decision to blitz Williams and play man coverage on the Illini wideouts had an obvious impact on the game's outcome.

Notable: Illinois Coach Ron Zook has been known for his wide-open, spread them out attack, but he became tremendously conservative in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Illini ran the ball 10 times in the fourth quarter compared to only three pass attempts, and on those three throws Williams was just 1-of-3 for -3 yards. That helped the Hoosiers get five fourth quarter possessions, and they were finally able to score the game-winning points on their final drive.

Special teams – A

Indiana couldn't ask for much more than it got Saturday from its special teams. Marcus Thigpen was electric, returning four kickoffs for 197 yards, including a 98-yard return on the second half's opening kickoff. Tyson Beattie averaged 44.3 yards on seven punts, and Tracy Porter forced E.B. Halsey into a fumble on one of those punts early in the fourth quarter. Finally, Austin Starr kicked a pair of field goals, including the game-winning 33-yarder as the game clock expired. The biggest lapse was Lance Bennett's decision to not field a Kyle Yelton punt on IU's next-to-last drive in the game, resulting in a 57-yard punt that forced IU to start its drive inside the 30 instead of near midfield.

Notable Stat: Marcus Thigpen's 311 all-purpose yards ranks fourth on IU's all-time list. Anthony Thompson leads the way with 416 yards against Wisconsin in 1989, followed by Thomas Lewis (367 yards vs. Penn State, 1993) and Vaughn Dunbar (336 yards vs. Missouri, 1991).

Overall – B

After a miserable start, Indiana showed a great deal of resiliency to earn the come-from-behind win, ending a 17-game Big Ten road losing streak as well as a 10-game, 27-year skid in Champaign. Offense, defense and special teams all played critical roles in the Hoosiers win, one they desperately needed after three straight losses at Memorial Stadium. While the challenges become even more daunting starting this weekend with the arrival of 19th-ranked Iowa to Bloomington, for one week at least the IU football program has something to feel good about.

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