BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Indiana may have left Memorial Stadium Saturday with more questions than answers following its season opener against Southern Illinois.
That's what happens when you have to survive a failed 2-point conversion try in the closing seconds to hang on for a 48-47 victory over a Football Championship Subdivision foe.
Offensively, the Hoosiers put up 595 yards, looked good in the running game and watched as senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld showed no signs of rust after missing the final six games a year ago with an injury to his non-throwing left shoulder. Sudfeld completed 19 of 32 passes for 349 yards and a touchdown.
Jordan Howard, a transfer from UAB who gained nearly 1,600 yards as a sophomore last season, gained 145 yards on 20 carries and scored three touchdowns in his IU debut. Redshirt junior wide receiver Ricky Jones had six catches for 186 yards and a score.
But the primary reason Indiana has only been to one bowl game in the last 21 seasons is that the Hoosiers have never been able to measure up on defense. Saturday the Indiana defense gave up 659 yards.
Southern Illinois' Mark Iannotti completed 24 of 31 passes for 411 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 106 yards on 17 carries and another score. His 517 yards of total offense shattered the school record of 443 yards set in 2007 by current SIU quarterbacks coach Nick Hill.
"Our problem in the first half was they were 7 for 9 on third down, they worked us, and they basically had 400 yards of offense in a half of football and that's embarrassing," said fifth-year Indiana coach Kevin Wilson. "If we can eliminate some of the big plays, which we should, I think you'll see this defense be a lot better than what you saw today. It better be. It has been, should be, better be, will be."
Just before kickoff the Hoosiers released a statement saying they had suspended nine players for the game citing they had not lived up to their responsibilities to the program. Six were defensive players, including starting tackle Darius Latham and linebacker Tegray Scales.
"If guys don't want to do things properly we handle it and we handled it," Wilson said. "We've dealt with it and they're good with it. There's a positive vibe with that crowd and there better be."
In addition, starting free safety Chase Dutra, the player with the most experience who returned in the secondary, missed the game with an undisclosed injury.
Indiana fell behind early and trailed at halftime 32-21 after Iannotti scored on a 1-yard run on the final play of the half. Indiana regrouped and outscored the Salukis 17-0 in the third quarter to take a 38-32 lead.
Perhaps the biggest play of the game came with 12:24 to play after Iannotti hit freshman running back Daquan Isom on an 80 yard catch and run for a touchdown. On the extra point attempt, Southern Illinois was penalized for having too many men on the field. After moving back 5 yards, kicker Austin Johnson was wide left on the extra point leaving the score at 38-all.
Indiana appeared to put the game away with 58 seconds to play on a 1-yard run TD run by Howard that put the Hoosiers on top 48-41. But Southern Illinois came right back to march 75 yards in 5 plays with Iannotti hitting Jimmy Jones for a 25 yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds to play.
Southern Illinois elected to go for the 2-point conversion, and IU true freshman cornerback Andre Brown Jr. made the defensive stop on Connor Iwema at the goal line to prevent the Salukis from taking the lead.
SIU coach Dale Lennon said he and his staff had decided before the final drive that if they scored they were going for two.
"We thought we'd take that last shot and hope to make it work," Lennon said. "Our guys did a good job of making plays when they needed to and that last drive was pretty impressive."