UFR: Misery (Illini) loves company (Iowa)
What did Bob Asmussen think about Saturday's 20-17 loss to Purdue? Upon further review ...
— Hard to remember a smaller turnout of students at an Illinois home game. At kickoff, the north stands were maybe two-fifths full. The crowd in the rest of the place is sparse, too, but it seems more glaring in the student section. They do have an excuse: no school this week because of Thanksgiving. Still, if the team was winning, more students would have found a reason to stick around. A big point of emphasis for the program between now and 2013 will be reconnecting with those students.
— Besides winning back the fans, Illinois will need to spend a lot of time in the offseason learning how to hang onto the ball. Three first-half fumbles, two by receiver RYAN LANKFORD and one by quarterback NATHAN SCHEELHAASE, helped Purdue hold a 6-3 lead. Without the miscues, Illinois would have had a rare halftime lead. Lankford, who suffered a leg injury, didn’t return to the field after the second fumble.
— Illinois had some fun on offense in the first half, putting man-mountain AKEEM SPENCE at fullback for a play or two. It would really be fun to see the big guy carry the ball.
— TAYLOR ZALEWSKI might end up being an important find for the Illinois coaching staff. The redshirt freshman kicker nailed the third-longest field goal in school history, a 54-yarder that briefly tied the game in the first half. Only DAN BEAVER (57) and DOUG HIGGINS (55) have kicked longer field goals for the Illini. Beaver also hit his against the Boilermakers in 1975.
— One way to anger the fans: let time run off the clock at the end of the half. That’s what Illinois did in the closing seconds of the second quarter, not snapping the ball despite reasonable field position. If it was a point-a-minute offense, being conservative late in the half would make sense. But the offensively challenged Illini need every play they can get.
— The Illinois defense controlled Purdue in the first quarter, holding the Boilermakers to 2 yards. The aggressive play included a sack and a flustered Purdue quarterback, ROBERT MARVE. The Miami transfer figured it out in the second quarter, hitting 11 of 14 passes, and the openings were much more prevalent for the receivers. So, what changed? The farther into the game, the more it seems the Illini back off. That might explain 2-9.
— On third and 8 early in the third quarter, Marve was able to scramble for 8 yards and a first down. That shouldn’t happen. Marve has suffered multiple injuries in his career and would probably get outrun by his coach, DANNY HOPE.
— Allowed to get comfortable, Marve eventually found his man, hitting AKEEM HUNT on a 63-yard touchdown pass midway through the third quarter. While 13-3 might not be much for most teams to overcome, it’s a Rocky Mountain for Illinois. All of them.
— Freshman tailback DAMI AYOOLA gave the Illinois coaches something to think about in the offseason with a nifty cutback touchdown run late in the third quarter. Ayoola will have a chance to get more familiar with the Illini offense in the spring and could push JOSH FERGUSON and DONOVONN YOUNG for playing time. Coaches like competition, no matter what position.
— Twice in the fourth quarter, Illinois fans booed what appeared to be wasted timeouts. Turned out they knew what they were howling about. Down three with 3:28 left, Illinois was able to stop the clock only once on Purdue’s final drive. The Boilermakers ran out the remaining time, converting a fourth-down try in the final seconds.
— There is going to be some serious caterwauling in Iowa City over the future of the football program. An ugly loss at Michigan and the elimination from bowl contention won’t help KIRK FERENTZ’s cause. Neither will a recent run of mediocre seasons. He’s got a lot of money guaranteed, but the rich folks who support the football program could be reaching the breaking point. The problem for Iowa is that you have to have a replacement in mind, and there isn’t a logical choice. Iowa needs to overhaul the offense. Again. And it needs to speed up on defense. What was once one of the more solid programs in the Big Ten is turning into Purdue. Not in a good way.
— What do you know, Northwestern can hold onto a late lead. Beating Michigan State gives the Wildcats eight wins and should move them way up the Big Ten bowl-pecking order. Northwestern could easily have 10 wins, blowing games in the fourth quarter to Nebraska and Michigan.
— We now can forget about rooting for Indiana in a bowl game. This year. The Hoosiers were eliminated with Saturday’s loss at Penn State. Still, they are more competitive than in the recent past and seem to have the corner turned, albeit slowly, under second-year coach KEVIN WILSON. Of course, it’s a basketball school so nobody really cares much anyway. Still, a nice diversion until mid-October.
— Good thing Minnesota became bowl eligible with its win last Saturday in Champaign. The Gophers got drilled in Lincoln, again, and figure to have a rough time of it next week against Michigan State, which needs the victory to earn a postseason berth.
IN THE STADIUM
— Illinois senior defensive end JUSTIN STAPLES wasn’t wearing his usual No. 54. Instead, on Senior Day, Staples wore No. 61 to honor his late father. LENSON STAPLES wore No. 61 while playing at Missouri in the 1980s.
— While they couldn’t make it all the way to midfield, the Illini seniors joined the captains on the field for the pregame coin toss. Purdue won the toss and deferred the choice to the second half.
— St. Thomas More standout lineman JOHN STRAUSER, who has made a commitment to play football at Purdue, wasn’t at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Instead, he was hanging with his family in Memphis. There will be plenty of time for Strauser to get acquainted with his new team after he signs on the dotted line in February. The Boilermakers plan to use Strauser on defense at a hybrid defensive end/linebacker position.
— Between the first and second quarter, the 1982 Illinois women’s basketball team was honored on the field. The former players were joined by new coach MATT BOLLANT and the current Illini.
— Another week, another missing Illini. Starting tight end JON DAVIS wasn’t in uniform because of a leg injury.
— Former Illinois baseball standout DARRIN FLETCHER was the honorary Marching Illini singer during halftime. Fletcher stood in the first row of the student section.