Hoosiers complete comeback for first conference win since 2020


BLOOMINGTON — Indiana football coach Tom Allen can keep a secret better than former president Donald Trump.

Allen’s word was the law within the Hoosier football program once he anointed a starting quarterback.

Once Allen signed off on “Top Secret” or “Classified” documents, 100 guys kept their mouths shut with no leaks for two weeks on who would start last Friday night’s opener against Illinois, newcomer Connor Bazelak or holdover Jack Tuttle. Meanwhile, Trump was scrambling to cope with legal threats suggesting he may have done too little to protect secrets of national import.

IU’s only compelling reason to hold back Allen’s choice was to confuse Illinois. It was not clear if such a goal was achieved, but Bazalak, the transfer from the University of Missouri, started and kept Tuttle bench-bound and was the guiding force in a late touchdown drive that gave Indiana a 23-20 victory at Memorial Stadium before 44,357 fans.

The 6-foot-3, 224-pound junior managed the Hoosiers to a huge triumph coming off a 2-10 season during which they were winless in the Big Ten Conference. Bazelak was 28-for-52 in passing for 330 yards as the linchpin in a no-huddle, hurry-up offense.

After rescuing Indiana from near-defeat, Bazelak noted that how the Hoosiers performed, parading 75 yards in 12 plays with no timeouts, really was business as usual.

“That’s our offense,” said Bazelak, who threw for more than 2,500 yards for Missouri last year before playing out his option and jumping into the NCAA transfer portal. “The whole game, it was two-minute. We didn’t have to do anything special.”

Yet this was special because it gave IU a tense but valuable win after a 2021 season of disappointment that included an eight-game losing streak.

“Very high,” Allen said, rating the importance of this victory, “massive. I knew that. I never said it to our team. I knew what we’ve been through. I knew what this game meant.”

Last year, impacted by major injuries, bad breaks and an autumn-long quarterback shuffle, it was as if the Great Depression had descended on Bloomington once again. Everywhere was heard discouraging words.

In the offseason, Allen went quarterback shopping at Costco, Target, Walmart, everywhere there might be a bargain get. He listened to, evaluated and accepted 21 transfer players. He recruited Hoosierland and all over the land.

The players drilled and sought to impress. Tuttle, who has seen past irregular action, was in the hunt to be the No. 1 QB. Even at the conclusion of fall camp, numerous players were still scrapping for first-team status. The pregame depth chart listed 12 positions with the starter being one guy “or” another guy. Or. That demonstrates considerable uncertainty among 22 offensive and defensive starters.

The game was close all the way. IU led 3-0, trailed 7-3, led 10-7, was tied 10-10, led 13-10 and 16-10, trailed 17-16 and 20-16 before scoring the winning points with 23 seconds remaining. Chris Campbell, who booted field goals of 39, 43 and 43 yards, had the magic toe for IU.

This was the first time Indiana and Illinois met since 2017, but the Fighting Illini one-upped the Hoosiers by scheduling an extra-early game and looked good thumping Wyoming 38-6 the week before.

While Tommy DeVito threw for 232 yards, Chase Brown, who could lead the Big Ten in rushing this season, amassed 199 yards on the ground. However, early in the fourth period, IU mounted a goal-line stand and smothered Brown.

“We weren’t able to rush in the most critical moment down there in the little red area to come away with a score,” Illinois coach Brett Bielema said.

IU’s defense was not perfect but was good enough, led by spirited linebacker and co-captain Cam Jones, who has issued constant reminders to teammates that last year was last year and this year is new – and did so again at the end of the third quarter.

“He’s the heart and soul of this team,” Allen said.

Jones was in on 12 tackles and had one of the Hoosiers’ three sacks. Indiana forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass, too.

Although the running game was practically nil, Bazelak developed a quick rapport with receivers newcomer Cam Camper, who caught 11 passes for 156 yards, and D.J. Mathews Jr., returning from injury, who caught 7 for 109 and a touchdown.

Bazelak said he knows many teammates had “a bad taste” in their mouths from last year, but this last-ditch victory definitely tasted sweet.

“It’s unbelievable,” Mathews said.

Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected]

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