Indiana 52, Illinois 35: Notebook

Indiana 52, Illinois 35: Notebook

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Evan Wilson had plenty of open space in front of him.

Justin DuVernois had the football in his hands, about to throw his first collegiate pass.

But the Illinois punter’s heave on the run fell woefully short of the Illinois tight end. Illinois’ fake punt on fourth and 10 from its own 37 backfired with the Illini trailing 42-35 and less than 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Indiana turned the miscue into a touchdown two plays later when Stephen Houston scored his second 2-yard touchdown run of the game. Illinois never threatened again.

“It was something that we worked on,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “Heck, if it would have worked, we would all be smiling now, and it didn’t. It was something that we saw that was there, and it was there. We just underthrew it. We’ve been practicing that play for the last three weeks. I’ll take the fault. If it would have worked, it would have been, ‘Hey, what a great call,’ but it didn’t, so it goes on my shoulders.”

It wasn’t a great day for the Illinois punters and kickers. Taylor Zalewski pushed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right late in the first half. It was Zalewski’s first miss since the win against Miami (Ohio) following four straight conversions. The miss dropped him to 1 of 3 on the season from 40-plus yards and 8 of 12 overall.

“I think that’s when we slipped, to be honest with you,” Beckman said. “To miss that field goal right before half just bites you.”

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Questions arose leading up to Saturday after the Illinois run game had gone stagnant the past three games. Josh Ferguson put to rest any concern regarding that topic with an impressive first quarter, when he ran for 70 of his 90 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown run. He added 49 receiving yards on six catches.

“It was great blocking and perfect play-calling by coach,” Ferguson said. “We just executed the plays. They had a lot of linebackers in the box, and a lot of them within the tackles, so we knew we needed to get the ball out on the perimeter was going to be to our advantage.”

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Houston Bates came untouched, sprinting toward Nate Sudfeld. The Illinois LEO had a free shot at the Indiana quarterback and made the most of it on a sack in the second quarter.

“We saw on film this week that they were struggling with inside pressures,” Bates said. “We tried to exploit it with a blitz we had where I started outside and wrapped around. I saw it open up earlier in the game, so I knew I was going to be free because Teko Powell opened up those gaps for me.”

The sack forced Indiana to punt for the first time all game and ended a promising third drive by the Hoosiers. Illinois had three sacks on the day, the most it has had all season, with Powell and linebacker Jonathan Brown also getting in on the action. Little solace, however, considering the Illini gave up a season-high 650 yards of offense. Add in the fact that Tevin Coleman rushed for 215 yards on 15 carries and Houston, his backup, added 150 yards on 17 carries, and big problems exist once again in stopping the run for Illinois.

“You’ve got to gap out and know where (Coleman) is because he can go the distance,” Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “We had two different calls on (his two long touchdown runs), and unfortunately, they were able to break both of them.”

Indiana’s offensive output was the third time Illinois has allowed more than 500 yards of total offense this season. Illinois is 0-3 in such games.

“It’s frustrating,” Banks said. “It really is. This is uncharted territory for me. I know the kids are working hard. As long as they continue to fight, I’ll continue to fight with them.”

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Brown intercepted a third-quarter pass from Sudfeld and returned it 16 yards. The play helped set up a 14-yard touchdown run by Nathan Scheelhaase that gave Illinois a 28-21 lead and was the first interception for Illinois in more than two months. Taylor Barton has the team’s other interception, which happened Sept. 7 against Cincinnati.

“I took my drop, and they just kind of threw it right to me,” Brown said. “It was kind of like a gift.”

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Illinois hasn’t endured many injuries this season. But left tackle Simon Cvijanovic went down with an right ankle injury early in the first quarter and spent the rest of Saturday’s game on crutches. He had a boot on his right leg by the end of the game.

“It was just like any other game other than me being on the left side since I’m normally on the right,” said Austin Schmidt, who filled in. “I started off the year up until the first week and all throughout camp on the left, so it wasn’t something brand new.”

It seems likely Schmidt will be back in there against Ohio State in six days.

“I really think for a true freshman to come in and play, he did a good job,” Beckman said. “There’s so many things that Nathan does and gives those players in front of them opportunities to be successful. With the fact that you’ve got a senior quarterback, it really helped Austin Schmidt make sure that he was in the proper position for the protections and those types of things.”

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Ralph Cooper had the first one. Justin Hardee added another one. And then Steve Hull had one, too. Three penalties on three different kickoff returns had Illinois starting drives inside its own 10-yard line.  

“Crazy,” Beckman said. “Of course you don’t want your offense starting inside the 20-yard line. Those are the things that regardless of who you’re playing against, you can’t make those types of penalties and (put) your offense in situations that are tough to get out of.”

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Corey Lewis has scored touchdowns before. It just hasn’t come in quite some time.

The sixth-year senior at right tackle recovered a fumble from Ferguson to tie the game at 35 early in the fourth quarter. Ferguson leaped high over the Indiana defense, but the ball came out before he crossed the goal line.

“I just tried to fire off and get Ferg in the end zone,” Lewis said. “As I looked up, I saw the ball was loose, and I (knew) I had to go get it. I saw it on the ground and went and got it.”

Lewis used to play tight end in high school, but it has been about nine years since he could celebrate a touchdown.

“It was a long time ago,” he said. “It’s always a dream when it comes in a tight game like that. It was a very special moment, but at the end of the day, we fell short.”

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Illinois opponents know Aaron Bailey is a running threat. The true freshman quarterback has only thrown five passes all season. So when Illinois had him in there on two straight plays late in the second quarter, runs were expected. Which is what Illinois did. To no success. Illinois turned the ball over on downs after Bailey was stuffed for no gain.

“We had the defense exactly where we wanted it,” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said. “We had walked through that thing a ton and had a breakdown. It was on the edge. That’s football. Sometimes you just don’t execute. We’ve struggled on the third and shorts. It’s probably the last piece we’ve got to really, really fix.”

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The game time for next Saturday’s home game against Ohio State is set for 11 a.m. The Buckeyes will bring a 20-game winning streak into the game under coach Urban Meyer. Illinois hasn’t beaten the Buckeyes in Champaign since 1991, a span of nine losses.

“They’ve been, by far, one of the best teams in the country for years, and really these last two years,” Scheelhaase said. “We’ve got the biggest bully in the conference coming in. If anybody wants to do a self-assessment of the way they go about this week and the way they play this game, it will probably give them a good idea of who they’re all about.”