CHAMPAIGN — Illinois, which has dealt with a cascade of injuries all season, took some more hits in Saturday’s 20-17 loss to Purdue.
Already without linebacker Jonathan Brown, safety Steve Hull and tight end Jon Davis, Illinois lost receiver Ryan Lankford, safety Tommy Harris and cornerback Terry Hawthorne to injuries Saturday.
“Crazy. I’ve never been around so much in my life,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “Lankford, we’ll see, that’ll be one of those things.
Hawthorne dislocated his finger, but he came back in. It’s the game of football, you’re in your 12th week of football, things like that happen.”
Lankford left for good after losing the second of his two fumbles. Beckman said it was an ankle injury, but that shouldn’t have contributed to his turnovers.
“Hold on to the football; it has nothing to do with your ankle,” he said.
For the second year in a row, an Illini senior wore a uniform number different than his usual on Senior Day.
Last year, Tavon Wilson, now a safety with the Patriots, wore No. 9 to honor his friend, Trulon Henry, a fellow Illini senior who had been shot earlier that week.
Justin Staples, normally No. 54, wore No. 61 Saturday to honor his late father, Lenson Staples, who wore that number during his college career at Missouri.
“He asked me at the beginning of the year if he could change his number for this football game, and there was no question in my mind that he could do that,” Beckman said.
Staples had a tackle, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry Saturday while playing in front of extended family and friends.
“It really means a lot to me; he’s the person who taught me the game,” Staples said. “With last week being (Dad’s Day), a lot of my family wasn’t going to be able to come to that game, so I said I wanted to wear it for Senior Night. It’s also my grandparents’ 52nd anniversary, so they’re here and I knew my family would come to this game, so that’s why I wanted to wear it.”
Illinois redshirt freshman kicker Taylor Zalewski, who had made 3 of 6 field goal attempts entering the game, drilled a 54-yarder in the second quarter. It was the third-longest field goal in school history.
Doug Higgins made a 55-yarder in 1990 against Michigan State. Dan Beaver’s 57-yarder against Purdue in 1975 is the Illinois record.
In the third quarter, Purdue running back Ralph Bolden appeared headed to the end zone on a 78-yard TD run. But he pulled up lame and stepped out of bounds voluntarily after a 63-yard gain. The senior tweaked a hamstring and couldn’t finish the run.
“I was able to kick it out and turn it up before I felt my hamstring hurting, so I just decided to hobble so I could get as much as I could and pray they didn’t touch me,” Bolden said. “I’ve had a lot of injuries, a lot worse than this, so this is not going to hold me up.”
Despite three torn ACLs, Bolden is 53 yards shy of rushing for 2,000 in his career. He was awarded a game ball Saturday.
“I can’t say enough great things about Ralph Bolden,” Purdue coach Danny Hope said. “We are so proud of him. His teammates really admire him and respect him and the coaches do as well. He had one leg left and he was giving all he had, and I think that exemplifies what being a Boilermaker is and what college football is all about.”