Late surge lifts Illini

Late surge lifts Illini

FINAL: Illinois 28, Youngstown State 17

CHAMPAIGN (AP) — It took a while but new quarterback Wes Lunt delivered a come-from-behind 28-17 win Saturday for Illinois over Youngstown State in a season opener.

Lunt threw three late touchdowns for Illinois. The second was a 15-yarder to running back Josh Ferguson that put Illinois up for good 21-17.

Lunt finished the day 24 of 38 for 285 yards and four touchdowns. He used nine different receivers.

Lunt's highly anticipated debut after his transfer from Oklahoma State started slowly. The Illini had seven first downs by halftime and clung to a 7-6 lead.

The Penguins took a 17-14 lead with 10:57 left in the game on a 2-yard Brian Ruiz touchdown and a 2-point conversion by quarterback Dante Nania.

Ruiz finished with 32 carries for 116 yards and one touchdown. Nania was 11 of 24 for 177 yards.

Illinois 21, Youngstown State 17. 8:50 left in fourth quarter

After dropping a touchdown, Mike Dudek has made up for it. Lunt hit Dudek on an 49-yard pass down the left sideline to put the Illini at Youngstown State’s 26. Two plays later, Lunt hit Ferguson on a 15-yard touchdown pass for his third one of the game.

Youngstown State 17, Illinois 14. 10:57 left in fourth quarter

A play after Carroll Phillips put a solid hit on Youngstown State quarterback Dante Nania for the first sack from the junior college transfer, the Penguins hit Illinois with a 61-yard gain off a catch-and-run from Nania to Andrew Williams. 

Martin Ruiz plunged his way into the end zone two plays later with a 2-yard score before Nania ran int the two-point conversion, once again putting serious doubt into whether Illinois can emerge with a home win.

Illinois 14, Youngstown State 9. 13:58 left in fourth quarter

Thanks to a gift from Youngstown State, the Illini have the lead. Youngstown State punter Joey Cejudo’s rugby-style punt backfired, with his punt going off the back of a Penguin blocking. Joe Fotu was credited with the “block” initially but it was later changed to a team block for Youngstown State. No one from Illinois touched the ball.

Wes Lunt then hit Josh Ferguson and Matt LaCosse on two passes after the Illini started the drive at Youngstown State’s 35-yard line before Lunt found Mike Dudek wide open on an 8-yard touchdown pass for the first career catch by Dudek.

Youngstown State 9, Illinois 7. End of third quarter

Third-quarter hero: Martin Ruiz. The Youngstown State running back gads slowly grinded his way to a solid afternoon. His big run of the day, a 31-yard gain, set up the field goal by Joey Cejudo to put the Penguins ahead. And he’s the reason why the Youngstown State faithful has to feel so good about its chances for an upset.

Third-quarter goat: Illinois. Losing to an FCS opponent. In their home opener. A game Illinois is not supposed to lose. Ever. But the Illini are on the verge of doing just that after a porous offensive display the first three quarters.

Youngstown State 9, Illinois 7. 9:18 left in third quarter

Youngstown State marched right down the field in methodical fashion. But used a running game that should not be abusing Illinois the way it is. Martin Ruiz’s 31-yard scamper keyed the drive, which ended with Joey Cejudo making his third field goal of the day, this one from 36 yards out. 

Panic mode might not have officially set in for Illinois fans, but this sure doesn’t bode well for the start of Tim Beckman’s third season.

Illinois 7, Youngstown State 6. Halftime.

Facing third-and-16, Youngstown State quarterback threw a short pass in the flat to running back Jody Webb. Who then proceeded to run 54 yards down the right side of the field. The Penguins then scored a touchdown on a running throw by Dante Nania, who placed it over the head of V’Angelo Bentley. But an ineligible receiver down the field penalty wiped out the potential TD and saved Illinois the embarrassment of trailing an FCS opponent at halftime. 

Joey Cejudo has ended the first two quarters with field goals, and his 29-yard one right before halftime have Illinois fans more than anxious going into the second half.

Illinois 7, Youngstown State 3. 13:15 left in second quarter

V’Angelo Bentley showed why he is a dangerous option in the return game, motoring his way to a 67-yard kickoff return to set Illinois up in excellent field position early in the second quarter. 

Which set up the first touchdown of the season for Illinois. Lunt connected with Jon Davis in the flat off a play-action, and Davis easily scored from 8 yards out. Lots of people in Memorial Stadium can breathe. For now.

Youngstown State 3, Illinois 0. End of first quarter.

First quarter hero: Youngstown State. The Penguins are keeping the game close by controlling the clock and establishing the run game. Two areas Illinois is definitely not thriving in at the moment. 

First quarter goat: Justin Hardee and Jarrod Clements.  A dropped pass on the second play of the game by Hardee negated a sure first down and helped stall the first drive of the season for the Illini. Clements hit YSU quarterback Dante Nania right under the helmet, drawing a personal foul penalty on a third-down-and-long situation to keep the Penguins’ drive going. 

Illinois won the toss and elected to receive. Didn’t work out so well, with Wes Lunt’s first series as Illinois’ starting quarterback ending in a three-and-out. Would have helped if Justin Hardee hadn’t dropped a pass across the middle that would have given Illinois a first down. 

And the second drive ended with a punt, too. Illinois didn’t cross midfield in its first three possessions. Never a good sign against an FCS opponent. 

Contrast in styles early on. Illinois attempted a pass on its first three plays. Youngstown State still didn’t have one (they did, but a penalty on Eaton Spence negated Dante Nania’s first attempt) after its first series ended with a punt. 

First penalty of the season for Illinois goes to Eaton Spence for defensive holding. Which came after DeJazz Woods was offside on the same play.

First first down pickup for Illinois courtesy of Martize Barr. He took a pass in the flat from Barr and barreled his way past a few YSU defenders for a gain of 11 yards. 

Illinois had a large inflatable orange helmet the players ran out of. With billowing smoke. Dramatic. 

Lots of good seats available. It’s pretty sparse looking on the east side of the stadium. And in the north end zone. Winning would certainly help attendance. And a marquee opponent to start the season could give a boost, too. Doubt there’s more than 20,000 people actually inside the stadium, but Bob Asmussen reports the Colonnades Club was pretty full. So Illinois has that going for it.

30 minutes until kickoff

Jalen Brunson made his way through the press box inside Memorial Stadium about 10:15 p.m., with his parents nearby. John Groce was introducing the five-star recruit to several people, including former Illinois coach Lou Henson. Brunson will have plenty of eyes on him during the game, which recruits usually stay for the first half. 

Now, the most highly-anticipated part of the in-game report. Game predictions from the assembled media gathered inside Memorial Stadium’s press box.

I’m going with Illinois 41, Youngstown State 20. Here’s a video from earlier in the week (next to a very large picture of Tim Beckman) going through my reasoning. 

To the surprise of no one, we all have picked Illinois to march over the Penguins (see what I did there). My colleague, Bob Asmussen, has Illinois winning 39-6. Loren Tate, about to start his 49th season covering Illinois football, predicts a game will take place today. And that the Cardinals will continue to frustrate him. 

Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune: Illinois

Jason Langendorf, Chicago Sun-Times: Illinois 32-17

Mark Tupper, Decatur Herald & Review: Illinois 38-20

Kirk Wessler, Peoria Journal-Star: Illinois 56-21

J.J. Wilson, Gatehouse Media: Illinois 31-10

Jeremy Werner, ESPN C-U: Illinois 42-17

Doug Bucshon, Illinois 38-13

Elise Kozal, Illinois 36-21

Robert Rosenthal, Illinois 38-20

Sean Hammond, Daily Illini: Illinois 35-7

Sean Newmann, Daily Illini: Illinois 41-10

Charlotte Carroll, Daily Illini: Illinois 42-21

Martin O’Donnell made his way into the press box and uttered “Holy sunshine.”  The sun was glaring in at the time. Now it’s dipped behind the clouds. Expect that to happen for most of the day.

And once the game is finished, O’Donnell will lend his expertise to the post-game show on WDWS. Tune in. The former All-American here at Illinois knows what he’s talking about. 

A handful of recruits are expected in attendance. The big ones are Class of 2015 commits Gabe Megginson from Jacksonville and Caleb Reams from Gurnee Warren. Megginson is an offensive tackle, while Reams is a tight end. Key Class of 2016 in-state recruits in O’Fallon running back Kentrail Moran and Oswego quarterback Steven Frank (both already sport offers from Illinois) are also expected to take in today’s game. 

Future Illinois quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald and his Centennial teammates will get a second crack at Morton tonight. Their game last night was postponed after inclement weather hit near the Peoria area.

Good chance you might see some rain during today’s game. Bob Asmussen can’t remember the last time Illinois played in a game featuring significant rain throughout. Might go a long way towards testing out just how well the Illinois run game might fare. 

“I don't think anyone is ever really totally prepared for rain,” Beckman said. “You practice in it during the spring, but we haven't had much rain during the fall.”

One constant Illinois has had to deal with this week is the sound of drag racing noises throughout Memorial Stadium. It’s a ploy Beckman is using in hopes his team starts fast. So there’s that. 

“That's important to this program because we haven't done that since I've been here,” Beckman said. “We need to start fast and continue fast throughout the game.”

Hear it for more than a few minutes and it can start to get on your nerves. 

“They're just going off all day,” STAR Earnest Thomas said. “It gets annoying, but he wants us to start fast. Every time you hear it, start fast comes in your head because it's just so repetitive.” 

Be back at kickoff and then periodic updates throughout the game. 


One hour until kickoff

Speaking of the defense, watch out for T.J. Neal today. The linebacker from McKeesport, Pa., who is a big Ray Lewis fan, could make significant contributions at middle linebacker. 

He has made strides since the spring that continued through August practices. 

“He's a student of the game,” said Mason Monheim, who will line up next to Neal at weakside linebacker. “He really gets in there and watches film. He's recognizing a lot of formations and things they like to do. He goes and plays fast. He has a high motor. Me and him, we've been working well together and playing well together. We're expecting huge things from him.”

Conversely, the Illini are expecting the same out of Josh Ferguson. The running back is a versatile option for Cubit to utilize. Whether it was running or catching passes last season, Ferguson was a player opposing defenses had to stay focused on. Perhaps he’ll add to his repertoire this season and throw a halfback pass. Or two. You never know what to expect when Cubit is calling plays. 

“I'm very confident if I have to throw the ball,” Ferguson said. “I'm not sure we'll be throwing it any time soon, but I'm sure one of these games we'll get that in there.”

Tim Beckman has hinted around, too, that he’s not opposed to using Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey out at wide receiver spot.

“I haven’t seen Aaron (catch a pass) yet, but Reilly’s pretty good,” Lunt said. “In the summer, he did catch a few passes.”

Youngstown State’s specialists trotted out onto the field about 9:35 a.m. to start warming up. The Penguins will wear white jerseys and white pants along with its customary red helmet. If you hadn’t heard, Illinois will unveil its white helmets for the first time, with orange tops and white pants to complement the new helmets. 

Getting a bit cloudier here at Memorial Stadium. Don’t be shocked if you see a little rain in today’s game, which BTN is carrying. Chris Denari is providing the play-by-play and Danan Hughes is providing the expert analysis. Hughes was kind enough to join Brian Moline and myself on WDWS’ SportsTalk on Friday night at the Hilton Garden Inn. Listen here for insight from the former Iowa wideout who saw some good Illinois teams during his time in Iowa City. 

Be back in another half hour.

90 minutes until kickoff

Everyone is excited to see what Wes Lunt can do in his debut as the starting quarterback at Illinois. Rightfully so. Lunt should put up monster numbers in his first season running Bill Cubit’s offense. If Nathan Scheelhaase can lead the Big Ten in passing yards during his first year employing Cubit’s system, imagine what Lunt could do. But he has to stay healthy. Which, given the inconsistent play of the Illinois offensive line at times last year, is a question mark.

“They've been helping me out every day since spring,” Lunt said. “They're all doing a really good job each day and having them is a big plus."

But the real intriguing piece for Illinois is how well the defense plays. A unit that was beaten down repeatedly last season has to find renewed confidence. Youngstown State is the perfect team to do so, but the Penguins do boast a talented running back in Martin Ruiz, who rushed for nearly 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns last season

“We'd be glad if they just tried and pound it,” linebacker Mason Monheim said. “We feel confident in our abilities to stop that. I think they'll try and spread us out a little bit. If teams in the next 12 weeks see Youngstown State hit us with a certain play or look, we'll see that the rest of the season. It's very vital to play assignment sound.”

Be back in another half hour. 

Two hours until kickoff

Good morning college football fans. Matt Daniels here with you for the next five hours or so. 

Nice morning here in Champaign for the Illinois season opener against Youngstown State. Partly cloudy with a slight breeze. Has a chance for rain and could get a bit muggy out there. But it is late August in East Central Illinois. What else can you expect?

Illinois made its way onto the field about 10 minutes ago, with the band and cheerleaders leading them onto the field after they conducted the Illini Walk.

Illinois is staying at a different hotel this year compared to the first two seasons under Tim Beckman. They’re now setting up camp at the Holiday Inn in Urbana compared to the Hawthorn Suites in Champaign. And there’s the first of many little-known, random tidbits I’ll throw your way in the next few hours leading up to the 11 a.m. kickoff.

Here's some reading links to get you dialed into the game.

Loren Tate writes about how the time is now for Tim Beckman at Illinois. 

Bob Asmussen and myself dabble in some notes from Friday, with Youngstown State arriving in Champaign shortly after 3 p.m. YSU coach Eric Wolford is a former Illinois assistant (two seasons as Ron Zook's offensive line coach in 2007 and 2008) who is pumped up to be back in Champaign. 

And here's a look at the projected starters for both teams. Two somewhat changes for Illinois are Jihad Ward is expected to start at defensive end in place of Kenny Nelson. And local product Michael Martin from Centennial will take the place of injured long snapper Zach Hirth. 

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JimOATSfan wrote on August 30, 2014 at 9:08 am

Bedtime in Melbourne AU (your 9:18am).

Have a great game ... let the magic begin!

Go Illini

Illini1973 wrote on August 30, 2014 at 11:08 am
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So much for starting fast.

Illini1973 wrote on August 30, 2014 at 12:08 pm
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We're losing both lines of scrimmages.

We're a mid-level FCS team.

When will we receive our BTN check?

griff507 wrote on August 30, 2014 at 1:08 pm

 Yet another over hyped Illinois football team. Lunt looks like a lost puppy out there, and the O line is just plain BAD.

Mike Thomas, you can start your coaching search TODAY!  Beckman will never be the answer.

Even if we come back and win this game, there is nothing to hang your hat on, to think Illinois will be a winning program this year, and at this rate, maybe never.

Where the heck is the O?

Hey Cubit, how about giving another QB a chance to play? They surely can't do any worse!

battleship1500 wrote on August 30, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Better buy lipstick by the ton to try and spruce up this pig. But I'm sure The legendary Tate can manage, and find more fault with fans than the team.