BLOOMINGTON – Indiana left it dramatically late Saturday afternoon, needing a fourth-quarter comeback and a 51-yard overtime field goal to squeeze past feisty Western Kentucky, 33-30.
Here are three reasons why:
It was by almost any measure Indiana’s best offensive performance of the season.
Connor Bazelak threw for 364 yards, spreading the ball to a dozen different receivers and mixing his depths. The ground game, while not explosive, at least gave the Hoosiers some of the explosive plays sorely lacking in the Week 1 win over Illinois. Cam Camper, Donaven McCulley and Josh Henderson all made good individual plays.
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And whether because of mistakes or inconsistencies, IU didn’t do nearly enough with it. There was a drive that ended when Shaun Shivers dropped a lateral from Bazelak and made little effort to cover it before Western Kentucky could. A late-half drive stalled because of a sack. Indiana scored just nine points off two turnovers.
The general inability to convert big plays into points and finish drives with touchdowns has plagued this offense for the past two seasons. It was very nearly a fatal flaw Saturday.
They might not be the record-setting outfit of a season ago, but the Hilltoppers still have one of the nation’s best passing offenses, and it showed Saturday.
Austin Reed burned an experienced Indiana secondary for 321 passing yards and two touchdowns. He wasn’t flawless, an end zone interception cost Western Kentucky points. But the Hoosiers’ inability to consistently generate a pass rush without blitzing let Reed sit in his pocket and pick that secondary apart. He completed 33-of-43 passes.
Western Kentucky kept IU off balance as a result, burning the Hoosiers when they did blitz and staying patient when they didn’t.
When they needed it, the Hilltoppers put together a drive that covered 39 yards and set up what would’ve been a game-winning field goal. But Brayden Narveson missed wide, prompting overtime.
A wild game got its deserved end. After Western Kentucky saw its second field goal try in five plays blocked, Indiana went backward twice in as many plays on its first overtime possession.
The Hoosiers kept making Charles Campbell’s job harder, losing ground on a rush and a sack. But Campbell rescued them, nailing a 51-yard field goal and clinching a come-from-behind win IU badly needed.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.