CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — It’s been a year since Illinois wandered, stunned, through a six-game losing streak that seemed like it might never end. Tim Beckman was hired as head coach to see to it that the Illini didn’t pile up losses like that again.
But after a 31-17 homecoming defeat to Indiana on Saturday, Beckman acknowledged that his mistake-prone team is nowhere near where he was hired to get it after Ron Zook was fired last season.
“You want it to happen fast, just like everybody else,” he said. “You want to be successful as fast as you possibly can, but right now we’re not.”
The loss was the fifth straight for Illinois (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten) since a mid-September win over Charleston Southern. And it means the Illini have now lost 10 straight in the conference since beating the Hoosiers last October.
On Saturday, they hurt themselves badly with eight penalties for 81 yards, two costly turnovers and allowing seven sacks to Indiana (3-5, 1-3), which only had a dozen sacks in seven previous games.
Those Illinois mistakes and the Hoosiers’ defensive effort helped deliver the win, Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said.
“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.”
With the win, the Hoosiers ended a pair of losing streaks of their own: five games overall this season, and 11 straight in the Big Ten going back to 2010.
Illinois wasted a career-best 124 yards rushing from Donovonn Young. And they had 372 yards of total offense to the Hoosiers’ 292.
“When you look at the stat sheet, we outgained them, had the ball more than them, a lot of different things that we’re doing that we felt like we were doing well,” Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “At the end of the day, a loss is a loss.”
Illinois was beaten by a freshman quarterback, Nate Sudfeld, who came off the bench after a first-quarter interception by Indiana starter Cameron Coffman.
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 setup 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 Big Ten losing streak dated to October 2010, and this season’s losing skid included painful near-misses against Ohio State — 52-49 two weeks ago — 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.
Scheelhaase finished 12 of 27 for 176 yards and a touchdown. But he had to survive the seven sacks.
The last 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.
And that efficiency — combined with key Illinois mistakes — pulled the Hoosiers from a 14-7 deficit to a second-quarter lead they never gave up.
Sudfeld credited his offensive line, which gave up three sacks but only one other tackle for a loss.
“They’re young, they work really hard and they take coaching really well, and they take pride in protecting us quarterbacks and opening up holes,” Sudfeld said. “They’re a big force.”
Illinois went up 14-7 early in the second on a 5-yard touchdown run by Scheelhaase and were set to stick Indiana with a three-and-out on the next series before Justin Staples was called for a late hit out of bounds on a third-and-3 play at the Hoosier 33. Sudfeld wasted no time, hitting Cody Latimer deep over the middle on the next play for 48 yards and a first-and-goal at the Illinois 6.
Two plays later, Stephen Houston took a screen pass from Sudfeld and dove into the end zone, squeezing just inside the right pylon. With the point after, the Hoosiers tied it at 14.
Indiana soon took its first lead on a pair of tough-to-justify mistakes by Illinois.
The first was return man Tommy Davis’ puzzling decision to sprint across the field to try to field a Nick Stoner punt that was angling out of bounds. The diving Davis got a hand on the ball as he went out of bounds, leaving it for Indiana’s Greg Heban to recover at the Illinois 22.
Four plays later, Houston breezed around the left end for a touchdown and a 21-14 Indiana lead.
“Give credit to Indiana because they didn’t have the penalties and they didn’t turn the football over, and they ended up winning the football game,” Beckman said.
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