Indiana Survives Scare from Colonels

Bloomington – Indiana athletic officials did just about everything they could to attract a big Thursday night crowd for the first game in the newly-renovated Memorial Stadium. Bill Lynch's team, though, didn't turn in an equally impressive performance...

Bloomington – Indiana athletic officials did just about everything they could to attract a big Thursday night crowd for the first game in the newly-renovated Memorial Stadium.

Bill Lynch's team, though, didn't turn in an equally impressive performance.

Playing in front of 36,759 fans – the largest turnout for an IU home opener in 12 years – Indiana needed a last-second goal line pass break up from Nick Polk to hold off I-AA Eastern Kentucky, 19-13, in both team's season openers.

"It wasn't a thing of beauty, but any time you can win the opener that's really big," Lynch said.

Polk's game-ending play on a 40-yard Hail Mary enabled the Hoosiers to avoid a calamitous result, but it was hardly a performance to gloat about.

The much ballyhooed debut of the "Pistol" offense – a formation designed to get IU's ground game going – did nothing of the sort. Indiana managed just 73 rushing yards and didn't show an ability to convert short yardage situations. Demetrius McCray managed just 49 yards on 13 carries, and the debut of Darius Willis was hardly memorable with just three carries for six yards and a first-quarter fumble.

Afterwards, Lynch said it was obvious Eastern Kentucky wanted to crowd the line of scrimmage and slow down IU's ground attack, but he was still disappointed it wasn't more productive.

"We didn't run the ball well enough," Lynch said. "And that was disappointing."

With the ground game going no where, Indiana had to rely on the arm of Ben Chappell, who completed 27-of-36 throws for 326 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Chappell was especially sharp in the first half, going 16-of-19 for 214 yards and a 33-yard touchdown to Damarlo Belcher to help the Hoosiers to a 19-10 halftime lead.

Belcher finished with six catches for 97 yards, while Tandon Doss added seven first-half catches for 117 yards.

"Doss and Belcher are really good layers – I thought they made some great plays," Lynch said. "They've made great progress. They look like what you're supposed to look like in the Big Ten."

As good as Chappell, Doss and Belcher looked in the first half, the second half was a different story. Indiana went without a point in the game's final 37 minutes, and Eastern Kentucky nearly torpedoed the Hoosiers' season before it even got started.

Midway through the third quarter, back-to-back 25-plus yard plays by EKU back-up quarterback T.J. Pryor set up a 31-yard Logan O'Conner field goal that got the Colonels within six, 19-13. That set the stage for a dramatic fourth quarter, where IU had to come up with two defensive stops inside its own five-yard line to preserve the win.

The first opportunity came on the opening drive of the fourth quarter. EKU starting quarterback Cody Watts marched Eastern Kentucky to within five yards of a go-ahead score, only to have IU's Ray Fisher come up the big play. Fisher – who sat out the first half for unspecified reasons – delivered a big hit on Watts on a quarterback keeper to force a fumble, and Jammie Kirlew fell on the ball to halt the drive.

"That was huge…when you've got your backs against the wall and they score and suddenly you're down one, now it's a different situation," Lynch said.

That might have been the Colonels best fourth-quarter chance, but they would get one more opportunity to pull out the win in the closing seconds. After taking possession with 7:10 remaining, Indiana put together a 13-play, 44-yard drive that chewed all but 26 seconds off the clock. But Indiana was unable to run the clock to zero, and after a Chris Hagerup punt sailed into the end zone EKU took over on its own 20 with less than 30 seconds remaining.

Those 26 seconds were nearly enough. After an incomplete pass on first down, Pryor got the Colonels into IU territory with back-to-back 20-yard completions to Evan Cromer. But with eight seconds remaining on the clock, Pryor hoisted the ball into the end zone only to have it batted down by Polk to allow the Hoosiers to escape.

While the end result was a victory, it was a performance that most likely isn't good enough to beat any of the other teams on IU's schedule beginning with next week's game against Western Michigan.

"We will improve. I've always felt it's easier to improve after a win than it is after a loss," Bill Lynch said.


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