Connor Bazelak’s late driving masterpiece lifts Hoosiers

BLOOMINGTON – A trio of transfer gate heroes gave the Hoosiers a late 23-20 season-opening victory against Illinois on Friday night.

Here are three reasons why:

Bazelak offers some hope, behind a shaky line

In his Indiana (1-0, 1-0) debut, Missouri transfer Connor Bazelak turned in a performance he’ll probably want to improve on, but one that gave some reason for optimism.

Bazelak hit a handful of really good deep shots. Connected to various receivers. He managed a withering pass behind a disorderly offensive line. He was far from perfect, completing 28-of-52 passes, though the blame for his lone interception lay elsewhere. He also passed for 330 yards.

Essentially, after Indiana’s 2021 season collapsed on itself, in part because IU couldn’t have consistent, effective quarterback play, Bazelak delivered. Never more so than when he led the Hoosiers on a riveting, spirited drive in the dying minutes to steal a victory on a night when the outcome could have been so different. In 12 plays and 75 yards, he turned more than a few doubters into believers, at least for one night.

Doyle: A good QB changes everything. And that gives IU a fighting chance.

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The line goes nowhere

Probably Indiana’s most justifiably criticized position group a season ago, the offensive line was the only spot on the roster that didn’t change this offseason. Of the Hoosiers’ five starters Friday night, four were regulars a season ago, and the two who rotated at right guard (Kahlil Benson and Tim Weaver) are in their third and fourth years, respectively, with the program.

We had questions throughout the preseason about quarterback, running back, wide receiver and even, to some extent, tight end, but the line was settled.

In the midst of an offseason of massive upheaval, Tom Allen chose to turn it around with his offensive line and position coach. A game in 2022, too many questions remained unanswered or the answers seemed insufficient. But for one night that line was worth celebrating along with everyone else, because like the rest of the offense, it stood up when it counted. They and Illinois held their nerve and let Bazelak lead his new team to victory.

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Defense back in business

After a 2021 season that Allen said adamantly wasn’t up to his standards defensively, the Hoosiers looked back to their core (and best) on that side of the ball on Friday.

The Hoosiers forced four turnovers, not including one on downs, and once held Illinois out of the end zone on 4u-and-goal from the 1. IU sacked Illinois (0-1, 0-1) quarterback Tommy DeVito twice, and allowed just 20 points despite significant disadvantages in total snaps and time of possession.

Allen spent the offseason promising that his move back to play calling on defense would bring the Hoosiers back to what looked like his best defenses in Bloomington. With some Week 1 mistakes forgiven, Indiana made good on that promise Friday, with a defensive performance that earned the Hoosiers their first conference win since Dec. 5, 2020.

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Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.

This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Star: 3 reasons Indiana football beat Illinois: Connor Bazelak late heroics

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