CHAMPAIGN – Ron Turner didn't need to look at the game tape to see why his Illinois football team lost Saturday. He knew the answer watching Iowa in the second half at Kinnick Stadium.
"It wasn't because we turned the ball over a bunch or made some stupid mistakes," Turner said Sunday. "They're a better football team than us. It was evident yesterday."
For the first time this season, Turner's team trailed at halftime by more than three points. That was the Illinois deficit in the opener against Southern Miss. The Illini were tied with Louisville and Washington State at halftime.
For the first time this season, Turner couldn't spend part of Sunday talking about his team's improvement. Down 24-3 at intermission on the way to a 38-10 loss, there wasn't much for the coach to brag about.
"In some areas – offensive linewise, receiverwise – we went backward," Turner said.
Seeing the tape Sunday reminded Turner of all that went wrong:
– Another punt returned for a touchdown, the second in three games.
"Special teams play has been terrible all year, especially our punt coverage," Turner said. "We've got our best athletes on the field doing it. Our punter's not helping the situation. He's not giving us any hang time."
Senior Ryan Tabloff averaged 39 yards on 11 punts. Four were returned for 126 yards.
Turner has tried other players at the position. Kickers Bret Scheuplein and Neil Rackers were considered. So was last year's starting punter, Jason Higgins. No stone was left unturned.
"During spring ball one day, we tried Ryan Murphy," Turner said. "I said, 'Can anybody on this team punt?' And Murph said, 'I can.' I said, 'Get in there in try it.' I don't think it even reached the line of scrimmage."
Turner asked long-legged quarterback Jeff Ziegler if he knew how to punt. Nope. Heck, Turner would even give his best player, Robert Holcombe, a shot at it.
"If he could punt, he'd punt," Turner said.
– A failure to adapt by the offensive line. Center Tom Schau's injured ankle kept him out of the game, forcing an Illini shuffle.
Left guard Chris Brown went from to center. Right guard Brent Taylor moved to the left side. And J.P.Machado got the start at left guard over Ray Redziniak.
"We didn't really play together, didn't communicate very well on some of the blitzes they had," Turner said. "A lot of it was our older guys. Our two tackles (Ryan Schau and Marques Sullivan) actually played pretty well. We just weren't very good inside."
– More big plays against the Illinois defense.
Part of the growing pains for a young defense? Turner doesn't think so.
"I don't think it's a necessary evil," Turner said. "It's evil that it's happening, and it shouldn't happen. Some of them are just because a team has better athletes than we do. Once somebody gets out in the open, we're not able to catch them. When you don't have great speed, you have to play perfect."
The Illini were far from perfect when it came to stopping Tavian Banks. The Iowa star had runs of 76 and 30 yards.
Don't mention to Turner the Illini held him to 85 on his other 23 carries.
"I've been hearing that for 20 years," Turner said. "You sit in staff meetings, and defensive coaches will say 'If it wasn't for that one 80-yard run, we held him to 80 yards.' I said, 'But that 80-yard run counts.' That's what great backs do. Barry Sanders. I've seen him have 15 carries for 15 yards, and then he breaks two 60-yarders. O.J. Simpson was like that.
"That is unacceptable. (Defensive coordinator) Tim (Kish) tried to say it a couple weeks ago. I said, 'Tim, they all count.' "
– A less-than-stellar first start for quarterback Tim Lavery.
Much of it, Turner said, wasn't Lavery's fault. After watching the tape, he saw some positives in Lavery's 8-for-31 performance.
"He actually read (defenses) pretty well," Turner said. "He called the wrong play two or three times, which we kind of halfway expected. He handled everything very well. He had a good look in his eye."
Turner is sticking with Lavery against Penn State.
"He's our starter, just like Mark (Hoekstra) was at the start," Turner said. "We think he can make some things happen."
– Another wasted effort by Holcombe.
The senior tailback gained 157 yards on 32 carries. The school's career rushing leader has surpassed 100 yards in three consecutive games.
"If we had a few more guys who had his determination and his heart and character, we wouldn't be 0-4," Turner said.