CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – For weeks, Indiana had come up just short.
Falling three points short of the first Hoosiers win over Ohio State since 1988. Losing to Michigan State by four after leading by 17. And dropping a one-point heartbreaker to Navy.
On Saturday, the Hoosiers found a way to win.
Seven sacks from the defense and an efficient two-touchdown game off the bench from freshman quarterback Nate Sudfeld were enough for Indiana to beat mistake-prone Illinois 31-17.
The defense rallied up, played well on the stretch, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. It was a good effort, the guys have been fighting, and it was great to see them come out and fight again. It was good to get one win on the road.
Indiana’s bonus was an end to a five-game losing streak this season and an 11-game Big Ten drought that stretched back to October 2010.
The Illini (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) are trying to end a pair of losing streaks of their own: 11 straight in the conference since beating IU last fall, and a five-game skid this season.
Sudfeld took over after starting quarterback Cameron Coffman was benched following a first-quarter interception.
Wilson said neither quarterback has much of an edge on the other. The decision to bench Coffman, he said, was based on seeing him make a mistake on the interception, a floater over the middle intended for Shane Wynn that Illinois safety Steve Hull pulled down.
It was just the dynamics of the day, Wilson said. They both got to get better, and we got to keep pushing those two guys.
Sudfeld’s second scoring pass, a 17-yarder to Wynn midway through the fourth quarter, put the Hoosiers up 31-17 and finished Illinois.
Shane was wide open for the pass, I just kind of made sure he caught it and threw it to him, Sudfeld said. I mean, it was just great play-calling, great execution by the running back to set up that play-action.
Saturday was homecoming for Illinois, but as Memorial Stadium emptied, the Hoosiers did all of the celebrating. The team gathered in the southeast corner of the stadium with a few dozen red-clad fans who likely shared the team’s relief in finally getting a win.
Indiana’s losing skid included painful near-misses against Ohio State – 52-49 two weeks ago in Bloomington – and Navy. The Hoosiers looked to have last weekend’s 31-30 loss to Navy in hand until almost the end.
This week, the defense earned its share of the win.
Indiana entered the game with just 12 sacks in seven games. But on Saturday, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase scrambled for his own safety. Scheelhaase finished 12 of 27 for 176 yards.
The last sack sealed the win. Down 31-17, Illinois stayed alive with a drive to the Hoosiers 4 with just over 2 minutes to play. On first down, defensive end Ryan Phillis punched through the Illinois line and put Scheelhaase on his back for an 11-yard loss.
The Illini came no closer to the end zone and Indiana took over with nothing to do but drain the clock.
Sudfeld wasn’t asked to do much more than manage the game. He finished with 107 yards on 10-of-15 passing.