CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois and Indiana entered their meeting Saturday 0-6 in the Big Ten. Losing that many conference games makes it hard to find something to play for late in the season, but the Hoosiers didn’t have to look far.
Indiana’s 24-14 victory kept their bowl hopes alive. It also gave coach Tom Allen his first Big Ten victory.
“The first win, the first whatever it is, is always special,” Allen said. “[It’s] one I’ll always remember.”
Richard Lagow was the catalyst for the Hoosiers, throwing for 289 yards and two touchdowns.
The Hoosiers (4-6, 1-6) racked up 428 yards and used a balanced attack to leave the Illini (2-8, 0-7) as the only winless team in the Big Ten. Illinois has lost eight in a row and 10 straight in the conference.
Coming into the game, Indiana was ranked last in the conference in rushing yards per game at 114.6. But on Saturday, the Hoosiers had 139 rushing yards, led by Cole Gest, who ran for 82 on 17 carries.
Both teams got off to a slow start. Morgan Ellison broke the scoreless tie on a two-yard plunge with just under three minutes left in the first half. His fourth score of the season capped a 10-play, 45-yard drive.
Illinois didn’t give up another rushing touchdown, but Lagow got the job done through the air. He completed 32 of 48 attempts to 10 receivers, with Ian Thomas and Simmie Cobbs Jr. scoring. Cobbs has scored in three consecutive games.
“Our receiving core is deep,” Lagow said. “I think when you’re playing in rhythm and just going through your reads, not forcing balls, naturally it’s something that will happen.”
The Illini struggled to find much offensive rhythm early. In the first half, they punted seven times and had just 72 yards of offense.
However, Illinois eclipsed that total on one play in the second half. On the first play of the Illini’s eighth drive, Jeff George Jr. connected with tight end Louis Dorsey for a 77-yard touchdown.
The play would have been only for a first down, but after the initial defender fell down, Dorsey sprinted to the end zone untouched for the ninth-longest play in Illinois history.
“I just saw an open opportunity, and I took it,” Dorsey said.
He finished with three catches for 107 yards. It was the first 100-yard game of his career and the most yards by any true freshman tight end in school history.
Tight end Caleb Reams also caught a touchdown pass from George — the first of Reams’ career — early in the fourth quarter. It brought the Illini within three. But that was as close as they would get. Cobbs scored on a five-yard slant route that shut the door on Illinois’ comeback.
“The second half, there was an opportunity there,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We let them score late. That slant route really hurt us.”
George threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns but lost a fumble and threw two interceptions. He has thrown 10 interceptions and seven touchdown passes this season.
For the first time in three games, Illinois played one quarterback. Freshman Cam Thomas didn’t enter the game because of an unspecified injury.