Hoos-their daddy?



By Jason Grodsky

Bloomington, Ind. – Illinois finally snapped its nation-leading losing streak in conference openers.

After 13 straight losses in Big Ten season openers, the Illinois football team put a notch in the victory column Saturday, beating Indiana 27-14.

Illini junior running back Rashard Mendenhall rushed for a career-high 214 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries.

He also caught a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Juice Williams in the second quarter.

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Illinois last won a Big Ten season opener on Oct. 2, 1993 at Purdue, and is now on its first three-game winning streak since 2001.

Indiana outgained Illinois in total yardage with 397 yards of offense, but the Illini forced four turnovers, including a game-sealing interception by sophomore defensive back Vontae Davis with one minute, 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.

“It was a big win for us to come into Indiana and get a win and get off on the right foot in the Big Ten,” head coach Ron Zook said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been so excited to go back to home after a win.”

Illinois (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) jumped out to a 13-0 lead on a pair of field goals by senior place kicker Jason Reda and sophomore tight end Michael Hoomanawanui’s first career touchdown catch.

The Illinois defense capitalized on two Hoosier fumbles in the first half to keep Indiana off the scoreboard. It wasn’t until late in the first half when the Hoosiers put together their first solid drive of the game, marching 78 yards for a touchdown on junior receiver James Hardy’s sixth touchdown catch of the season.

It wouldn’t take long for the Illini offense to respond to Indiana’s touchdown, driving 68 yards in 1:14 for a score on Williams’ second touchdown pass of the game, a 15-yard swing pass to Mendenhall to give the Illini a 20-7 halftime lead.

The Illini rushed for 176 yards and picked up 19 first downs in the first half, converting on four of seven third downs to keep the chains moving. It wasn’t until just more than five minutes remaining in the second quarter that the Illini punted.

“Our offensive line has been doing a great job since the first game,” Mendenhall said. “There have been seams to run through all over the place. I felt like I was out there driving a truck through the holes that the line is creating.”

The Illini finished with 288 rushing yards on the game and controlled the ball for more than 31 minutes.

Illinois looked to be in prime position to try and put the Hoosiers away early in the second half following a punt block by Davis that gave the Illini offense a short field to work with.

But after a rushing touchdown was called back on a holding penalty, Williams was intercepted by Indiana senior cornerback Tracy Porter for the second time in the game.

Illinois’ defense picked up its quarterback, though, by forcing the Hoosiers to punt, something the Illini did well all game.

“I just had to put the interception out of my head,” Williams said. “The entire offense came over to me and kept encouraging me to keep going and keeping playing, and it worked for me.”

The Illini’s defense flustered the Hoosiers all day. Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis came into the game averaging 105.7 yards rushing and 214.3 yards passing, but the Illini kept the Hoosiers’ versatile quarterback in check all game.

Illini junior defensive lineman Will Davis played a big part in controlling the Indiana quarterback. Davis made seven tackles, four sacks and caused an early fumble that led to the Illini’s first points of the game.

“We basically bull-rushed (Lewis) the entire game,” Davis said. “We didn’t put ourselves out of the play by getting behind him on the rush and just tried to force him to make him make some moves.”