Tom Allen has lost his voice.
When Indiana’s head coach speaks, his words struggle to come out like tires over a gravel road.
There’s reasons for this of course. Shouting into the megaphone that already amplifies his voice at practice, voicing his displeasure at an official’s call on the field or celebrating with his team in the locker room after a hard-fought win.
As Allen stood before the lectern at Memorial Stadium on Friday night, his voice was all but gone. That third reason had finally come around again.
Indiana beat Illinois 23-20 to open its 2022 season, the program’s first Big Ten win since Dec. 5, 2020 when the Hoosiers defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison Wisconsin.
Allen knows what’s gonna be said. This wasn’t some top-25 opponent, it wasn’t a dominant win and there were plenty of issues throughout the game.
He couldn’t care less (except for that last bit.)
“This team has been through so much,” Allen said. “I’m proud of them, they fought and they found a way to win.”
That way came through a brand new face to the team. Connor Bazelak spent the 2021 season with Missouri before entering the transfer portal in the offseason and choosing the Hoosiers after a visit to Bloomington.
Bazelak saw it in his teammates’ faces. He wasn’t here, but he knows what winning means to them, and he’s gonna do everything in his power to help deliver more.
“These guys had a bad taste in their mouth after last year,” Bazelak said. “Excited we got a win here in week one.”
With the running game all but ineffective, averaging just 1.2 yards per carry on 26 attempts throughout the game, the playmaking usually fell on Bazelak’s shoulders.
Facing a secondary that knew the pass was Indiana’s only viable option, Bazelak tossed 52 attempts for 28 completions, 330 yards and a touchdown. No Hoosier quarterback since the legendary Antwaan Randle El has had more yards in their Indiana debut.
But Bazelak was far from alone. On offense, he had the duo of Cam Camper and D.J. Matthews racking up 156 and 109 receiving yards, respectively.
On defense... he had the defense.
Indiana’s offense had its moments. A Cam Camper fumble handed the ball back to the Illini just when momentum was turning the Hoosiers’ way and its one dimensional nature lead to stalled drives in the second half.
That’s when the defense came in, stalling the Illini defense with four takeaways or key plays on third downs. Cam Jones flew all over the box, the defensive line pressured Illini quarterback Tommy DeVito and Tiawan Mullen locked down any receiver who faced him.
When Indiana’s defense delivered late in the fourth quarter, Bazelak was there to capitalize. With just over two minutes left on the clock, Bazelak drove the Hoosiers down the field in a no-huddle offense.
Six yards, 12 yards, 17 yards or even just three was enough to ultimately get Indiana in the shadow of the Illinois end zone.
Bazelak took it himself with five yards to go, picking up four. Shaun Shivers drove in that final yard to reclaim the lead, 23-20. There were still 23 seconds to go, but Bazelak wasn’t worried.
Indiana’s defense took the field, the full weight of the fans in the stands behind them.
- DeVito pass complete, 29 yards.
- DeVito sacked by Beau Robbins, loss of 8 yards.
- Timeout Illinois, 0:07.
- DeVito pass incomplete.
- Timeout Illinois, 0:02.
- DeVito pass complete.
- Fumble, recovered by Jaylin Williams.
- End of game, 0:00.
Bazelak’s yelling, the defense is yelling, Hoosier fans are yelling and Allen is doing his best to join them.
But Tom Allen had lost his voice.