CHAMPAIGN – Illinois and Purdue provided exactly the kind of game that could have been expected in a match-up of Leaders Division basement dwellers – not much of one.
Aside from a six-minute stretch of great play and a late scoring drive from Illinois, both teams struggled to put drives together on offense. In the end, Purdue came up with a 20-17 win, extending the Illini’s conference losing streak at least one more week.
Excuses for the loss were varied after the game, from turnovers (Illinois had three, Purdue had none), to big plays (Purdue’s touchdown drives features 60-yard plays) and an inability to create big plays (the Illini’s longest play of the day went for 22 yards).
“We cannot turn the ball over and win. I’ve stated that since day one,” Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said. “[The turnovers] were hurting us. They were not giving us an opportunity to keep momentum and our opportunity to be successful. It deflates you.”
Beckman's coaching staff agreed.
“We gave up two big plays that were catastrophic. If we had to do it over again we’d like to think we’d make those plays,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said.
“Right now, we don’t have the one guy who stretches the field,” offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. “It’s hard to call plays and be perfect all the time when we don’t have guys to get those chunk yards.”
Illinois started the game with two good drives, marching 24 and 48 yards before fumbles by wide receiver Ryan Lankford brought the drives to a halt. After the second Lankford fumble, the Illini lost momentum and did have another drive longer than 20 yards until the middle of the third quarter.
The Illinois defense made up for any shortcomings on offense, however. The Illini forced three straight three-and-outs, allowing the Boilermakers zero first downs in the first quarter. After one quarter, the Illini had as many first downs (7) as Purdue had rushing yards.
Purdue was the first on the board, however. The Boilermakers put together a 78-yard drive from their own eight down to the Illinois 14 before the hosts could halt their progress. Purdue settled for a 31-yard field goal from Sam McCartney, taking a 3-0 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.
The Illinois offense started to rally. After being pushed to third-and-14 on the first set of downs, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase broke off a 19-yard run to keep the drive alive. Another nine yards from running back Donovonn Young, along with a 15-yard facemask penalty put the Illini deeper into Purdue territory.
The Boilermakers’ defense stood up after the penalty, though, stuffing Illinois at the 37 before freshman Taylor Zalewski stepped up for his team, booting a 54-yard field goal just over the upright to tie the game with 6:45 left in the half.
On the ensuing possession, Purdue exploited a weakness in the Illini defense, throwing a bevy of receiver screens with success. The Boilermakers churned up yardage along the sidelines, marching to the Illinois 12 before McCartney came on and hit his second field goal of the day, staking Purdue to a 6-3 lead.
Scheelhaase got off to a good start on the ensuing drive, but after two first downs, he was pressured on his blindside and the ball popped loose. After review, it was judged Scheelhaase had, in fact, fumbled the ball and Purdue was awarded the ball at midfield.
Penalties and a sack from Michael Buchanan backed Purdue up, however, stopping the Boilermakers from taking advantage of Scheelhaase’s mistake.
“Our defense did a really good job of staying in there, hats off to them…but [turnovers] put a lot of pressure on them,” Scheelhaase said.
Illinois got the ball back at its own 15 with 45 seconds to play in the first half but let the clock run out without looking downfield, prompting boos from the home crowd.
Scheelhaase finished the game with 166 yards in the air, but had no pass longer than 22 yards. Beckman said the lack of a deep threat really came down to the pressure from Purdue and offensive line issues.
“We’ve gotta protect the quarterback and continue to protect him,” he said. “They were in a lot of man coverages…so they’re bringing five, six, seven guys. To go vertically, you’re going to get your quarterback hit, so we felt we needed to get the ball out as quickly as possible.”
The two teams combined for just 18 yards on the first three drives of the second half, but Purdue broke out in a big way with the fourth drive.
Quarterback Robert Marve took the first snap and rolled to the right, drawing the defense. With every Illini defender on the right, Marve tossed a screen pass to Akeem Hunt, who followed his blockers 63 yards for the game’s first touchdown. With eight minutes elapsed in the third quarter, the Boilermakers took a 13-3 lead.
“It was a man coverage and somebody lost their eyes,” Banks said, explaining how Purdue got an open field to work with on the touchdown pass. “They didn’t see him and everyone was running to the ball…we were in man and we gotta go to our man. It hurts.”
A fourth down conversion by Illinois – on a 10-yard pass from Scheelhaase to Young – helped Illinois get some momentum going on the next drive before An impressive 22-yard reception to Darius Millines set the Illini up at the Purdue 16.
On the very next play, freshman Dami Ayoola ran for his second touchdown of the year and the Illini’s first offensive touchdown in seven quarters. The 16-yard run brought Illinois within three at 13-10.
Purdue hit right back at Illinois, however, with Ralph Bolden breaking out for 63 yards on the first play of the next drive. Akeem Shavers reached paydirt two plays later with a six-yard run to give Purdue a 20-10 lead.
Late in the game Illinois made things close with a 95-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown by Scheelhaase, but it proved to be too little, too late. The onsides kick attempt did not bounce the Illini’s way and Purdue ran out the clock to give Illinois its eighth straight loss.