Bloomington – It might not have always been pretty for Coach Bill Lynch's team Saturday night, but it was good enough.
Indiana overcame a couple of missed field goals, a fumble deep inside its own territory, and some squandered opportunities in the red zone to knock off Illinois 27-14 in front of a Homecoming crowd of 42,358 at Memorial Stadium.
The Hoosiers ended their three-game losing streak and improved to 4-3 overall and 1-2 in Big Ten play, while Illinois fell to 1-5 overall and 0-4 in league action.
While Ben Chappell threw for a personal best of 333 yards and three touchdowns and Tandon Doss had seven catches for 130 yards and a score, it was the defense that keyed the Hoosiers' first over the Illini since 2006. After giving up 47 points to Virginia a week ago and 55 to Illinois last season in Champaign, the IU defense limited Illinois to just two touchdowns – one of which came late in the fourth quarter with the game's outcome no longer in doubt.
"I couldn't be happier for them," Lynch said. "Coming off that performance last week – they responded."
That defensive effort was particularly important early on when a couple of long Indiana offensive drives ended in missed Nick Freeland field goals.
Indiana controlled the ball for nearly 12 minutes in the first quarter, putting together 11 and 15-play drives that stalled inside the red zone. But Freeland missed wide right on field goal attempts of 38 and 32 yards, respectively, to turn the ball back over to Illinois. But on both occasions Indiana's defense forced Illinois to punt on its ensuing drive to keep the game scoreless early in the second quarter.
It was a consistent theme throughout the game. Sometimes Indiana's offense would take advantage of an opportunity, and other times it wouldn't. But all along, Lynch's defense came up with the plays it needed. Seven of Illinois' 12 offensive possessions ventured into Indiana territory, but only two resulted in points for Coach Ron Zook's team.
"The defense didn't give up big plays – we made them drive it, made them drive it, made them drive it, and then (we) got some turnovers," Lynch said.
Indiana wasn't overly opportunistic on offense either, despite 482 yards of total offense. But a couple of scores late in the first half and a couple more early in the fourth quarter carried the Hoosiers to victory.
With Illinois leading 7-3 late in the first half, the Hoosiers put together a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go up 10-7. Chappell found Damarlo Belcher open underneath, and Belcher buckled Illini cornerback Dere Hicks' knees as he raced 29 yards for the go-ahead score with :55 remaining in the half. After Illinois went three-and-out on its next possession, Chappell led Indiana on another scoring march that ended with a 35-yard Freeland field goal as the second quarter expired.
Indiana seemed poised to take control of the contest midway through the third quarter after Illinois muffed a Mitchell Evans' eight-yard punt and Max Dedmond fell on it at the Illinois 18-yard line. But faced with a 4th-and-1 at the Illinois 9, Trea Burgess slipped with a wide open field in front of him to turn the ball back over to the Illini at its own 10-yard line.
Indiana's latest red zone miscue, though, was answered by the Illini with one of their own. Facing a 2nd-and-5 at the Indiana 6-yard line late in the third quarter, Illinois quarterback was stripped by Jammie Kirlew and Ray Fisher picked up the ball and returned it to the Illinois 32. After four Darius Willis runs moved the ball inside Illinois territory, Chappell connected with Tandon Doss on a perfectly thrown 44-yard strike on a play action call to put Indiana up 20-7 with 12:55 remaining.
Indiana would strike again moments later, and once again it was Kirlew setting the Hoosiers up with a strip of Williams. Kirlew forced another Williams fumble on a sack, and Larry Black recovered at the Illinois 21. Two plays later, Chappell found Troy Wagner open in the end zone from 13 yards out to extend the lead to 27-7 and put away the Illini.
Defense Carries IU to 27-14 Win Over Illini
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