CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — For much of the season, Indiana has lost games because of poor quarterback play. In the Hoosiers’ 48-45 overtime loss to Illinois on Saturday, they found a way to lose in spite of how well its QB Brendan Sorsby played.
With 1:37 left in the fourth quarter, IU’s offense got the ball with no timeouts, trailing by eight and needing to gain 85 yards plus a 2-point conversion to force overtime.
Sorsby completed three passes for 55 yards and rushed twice for 30 yards on the drive. He found Fordham transfer DeQuece Carter up the seam for a 26-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left. On the ensuing play, Sorsby scrambled and connected with Clemson transfer E.J. Williams for the tying 2-point conversion.
“You dream of being in the situation,” Sorsby said. “I’m confident in our guys, trusting they’re gonna make some plays.”
The drive climaxed Sorsby’s career day. The redshirt freshman was 22-of-33 for 289 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, Sorsby rushed for 53 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“Sorsby showed the kind of special player he can be,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said.
Outside of a third-quarter interception, Sorsby did all Indiana could have asked of him. The Hoosiers scored 42 points in regulation — the most they’ve scored since Sept. 2021 and the most they’ve scored in regulation against an FBS school since 2017.
IU began overtime with the ball at Illinois’ 25-yard line after its 85-yard drive to tie the score.
IU handed the ball to running back Josh Henderson for no gain on the first play. The Hoosiers then dialed back-to-back quarterback draws for Sorsby, gaining just two combined yards, and settled with a 41-yard field goal by Chris Freeman.
“As a quarterback, obviously you want to throw the ball a little bit,” Sorsby said of the playcalling. “But, like I said, the draw worked on that last drive (of regulation). I had a couple good runs.
“Maybe we saw something in the defense that we liked and the draw was there… I don’t know.”
When the Fighting Illini got the ball and were faced with a similar third-down situation, they let quarterback John Paddock air it out. Paddock scrambled and eventually found Isaiah Williams for a 21-yard walk-off touchdown.
“I feel like we’ve got to score a touchdown in overtime. Not a field goal,” wide receiver Donaven McCulley said while shrugging.
McCulley caught 11 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday while drawing four pass interference penalties.
Despite the loss, Sorsby is clearly getting more comfortable each week. In the past three weeks, the Denton, Texas native has thrown seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Sorsby also had his three highest yardage outputs in those performances.
Sorsby split snaps with Center Grove grad and Tennessee transfer Tayven Jackson in the season’s first two games. Jackson was the clear-cut starter in the next three games, but the pair split snaps against Michigan on Oct. 14, and Sorsby was given the starting role the following week. Now in his fourth consecutive start, Sorsby looks more natural.
“I feel like he’s grown a lot,” running back Trent Howland said. “Him being so young, there’s a lot that he has to evaluate with the game, and he knows what he has to do when it comes to stepping up on big stages like this, but he handles it well.”
When Rod Carey took over as offensive coordinator at the start of October, Sorsby re-entered the equation for IU’s offense. Carey and Sorsby worked together often at the start of the 2022 season when Carey was a quality control coach in charge of the scout team and Sorsby was the scout team QB.
The chemistry Sorsby has with Carey — along with getting consistent first-team reps — has led to the Hoosiers vastly improving their offense. IU scored 24 points at No. 9 Penn State two weeks ago, 20 against Wisconsin last week and 45 at Illinois on Saturday. Those are three of IU’s four best-scoring games against FBS teams this year. When adjusting for the four overtimes IU played against Akron on Sept. 23, those are the three highest-scoring games of the Hoosiers’ season.
Indiana’s offense may not be setting the world on fire, but it looks much better than the unit that could barely get first downs in the first half of the season. Saturday’s loss squandered Indiana’s bowl chances, but the program appears to have finally figured out the quarterback position.