Indiana came into Saturdayâ€™s contest as heavy underdogs against an Illinois team ranked 19th in the country. Fans, players and coaches alike knew that if the Hoosiers wanted a chance at an upset, then they would need to have a few breaks go their way and see a strong performance from the offense. Unfortunately, starting quarterback Dusty Kiel and his offense failed to hold up its end of that bargain.
The Indiana Hoosiers (1-5, 0-2) suffered a 41-20 blowout at the hands of the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-0, 2-0). Nathan Scheelhaase and AJ Jenkins were Illinoisâ€™ foremost offensive standouts as the tandem hooked up four times for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half. Jenkins would finish with six catches for 182 yards and those two touchdowns.
â€œ(Illinois) is a nice team,â€ Kevin Wilson said after the game. â€œThey played well and held in the first half. Theyâ€™re 6-0 right now and in the thick of this division.â€
IU started quickly, as true freshman kick returner Shane Wynn took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to give the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead. The defense held up early as well, limiting Illinois to a three-and-out and a turnover their first two possessions. Kiel took advantage of the short field and maneuvered the Hoosiers into position for a 44-yard Mitch Ewald field goal and a 10-0 lead.
The lead would prove to be short-lived.
Illinoisâ€™ very next possession featured a 77 yard touchdown pass from Scheelhaase to Jenkins to put them on the board and their defense recovered a Dusty Kiel fumble on IUâ€™s very next possession to give the Illini a 14-10 cushion. Indiana would not lead again.
â€œThat play was a busted coverage and a miscommunicationâ€ said Wilson after the game. â€œThe guy who should have been covering (Jenkins) blitzed and he was wide open. His next touchdown was just a big player making a big play. It was a competitive play and (Scheelhaase) threw a perfect ball and hit him in stride. We defended it pretty well, maybe it could have been a little better but sometimes big players just make big plays.â€
â€œWe tried to stay patient and stay balanced,â€ continued Wilson. â€œBut (Illinois) leads the league in sacks. Stephen Houston got some positive things going but we were still too one dimensional and if youâ€™re one dimensional in this league, youâ€™re going to get beat.â€
Houston was indeed a bright spot as he started for the second straight game in place of the concussed Dâ€™Angelo Roberts. He ran for 68 yards on only 14 carries and added three catches for 70 yards, including a 48 yard reception on a broken play.
â€œIâ€™ve changed up my work ethic in practice,â€ he said. â€œMy coaches have told me that they expect a lot more from me so Iâ€™m running harder than I ever have before. I just told the line to keep pushing and we stuck to our guns.â€
Despite Houstonâ€™s success on the ground, the Indiana offense was rendered largely impotent thanks to the uninspired play of Dusty Kiel. Kiel, who received the start over Ed Wright-Baker, completed 32% of his passes for 71 yards â€“ 48 of them on that pass to Houston â€“ and was sacked three times. After the game, Wilson explained his reasoning for starting Kiel.
â€œEd (â€˜s ankle) was maybe 90-95% this week and maybe he could have gone, but we just wanted to save him for another week and so we went with Dusty.â€
Unfortunately, Kiel was largely ineffective, as he led Indiana to only 119 yards and a pair of field goals in the first half. The second field goal was a microcosm of everything wrong with the Hoosier offense so far this season. After the defense forced an Illinois turnover inside their own five-yard line, Kiel and the offense failed to gain a single yard and were forced to settle for a chip-shot field goal.
â€œThe offensive guys are pressing a little bit,â€ Wilson observed. â€œTheyâ€™re not trusting the scheme, or themselves or the guy next to them and thatâ€™s why weâ€™re struggling.â€
Wilson also put much of the defenseâ€™s struggles on the offenseâ€™s inability to execute.
â€œThe defense is battling, but weâ€™re putting too much stress on them and we canâ€™t continue to do that.â€
After the field goal pulled Indiana within a point, the Illini rattled off 21 points before the Hoosiers were able to score again. That scoring drive was led not by Kiel, as he sustained an injury in the first half which stiffened up at halftime. Instead, it was Tre Roberson, the true freshman quarterback and last yearâ€™s Mr. Football for the state of Indiana, who led IU to the end zone. Roberson looked raw at times, but he was effective in moving the offense and showed a fair amount of promise.
â€œTre had a decent, not great week of practice this week,â€ said Wilson. â€œBut when Dusty got nicked up we sent him in and he made some things happen.â€
â€œIâ€™ll try to fit in how I can,â€ said Roberson. â€œIâ€™ll just keep working to get better and keep fighting.â€
The Hoosiers will try to emulate that mindset this week as they prepare for their toughest test yet â€“ next Saturday in Madison against the #4 Wisconsin Badgers.