Game story: Growing pains slow down Illini

Game story: Growing pains slow down Illini

IOWA CITY, Iowa — You can change quarterbacks. You can shuffle the offensive line. You can try some more freshmen.

But none of it matters unless you make plays.

Illinois tried a little of everything against Iowa on Saturday. And walked away with its third loss in a row. All lopsided. This time: Iowa 45-16. The Illini winless streak against their neighbors goes back to 2008.

"Obviously, we don't like the score," center Nick Allegretti said. "You never want to lose. I think we played hard, which is not something we had done in the past. We played hard. We played physical. But you don't want to take moral victories from the game, you want to win. But we can take some stuff we improved on today and move into the future."

No argument from the boss.

"When you get the same results at the end, it's tough," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "It's all about who wins and loses. Where we are right now, we need to see some improvement."

Illinois trotted out a new starting quarterback, Jeff George Jr. The numbers said he did well except for one: three. That's how many interceptions he threw in his first full game this season.

"We turned the ball over too many times and had some big plays that really went against us," Smith said.

"I've just got to make better decisions," George said.

George threw for 246 yards, hitting 22 of 45 passes on a wet, windy day at Kinnick Stadium.

"Passing game-wise, we had our moments," Smith said. "Just weren't consistent enough. We saw some life to our offense today."

The day started with a fumble on the opening snap. George got hit while throwing and the play was initially ruled an incompletion. But replay overturned the call, giving Iowa possession at the Illinois 27. Sycamore native Ben Niemann got the recovery.

"I thought I threw it," George said. "I definitely threw it. I thought they were crazy for saying it's a fumble, but I'm just out there playing."

Two special teams breakdowns cost Illinois (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten).

On Iowa's first touchdown, a 5-yard pass from Nate Stanley to Nick Easley, Illini safety Stanley Green was called for a personal foul. With the 15 bonus yards, Iowa tried an onside kick and recovered.

"A good play by them." Smith said. "We didn't have it covered good enough."

Late in the first half, Iowa's Amani Hooker gained 18 yards on a fake punt. The Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2) scored later in the drive to take a 17-13 lead.

"We thought we needed something there to get us going," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

The Illini used a new offensive line combination with freshman Vederian Lowe taking Christian DiLauro's place at tackle.

"When you look at the offensive line, how did we run the football today? Fairly well," Smith said. "Protection? I thought we had time. He was a part of that offensive line group. First extensive action that he's gotten. I think you have to like that."

George was happy with the offensive line.

"They played unbelievable," he said. "They were giving me plenty of time back there. They were making holes for the running backs to run through. They played their butts off."

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Moonpie wrote on October 08, 2017 at 9:10 am

I always liked and respected Bob. But this is what Cheerleader Central Inc. is going with? Growing pains? That's just giving cover--we're playing freshmen! Other teams play freshmen, too. Illinois isn't unique in that regard. It's an alibi that's already tired and worn.

This column instead should be putting feet to the fire--Jeff George Light has never been any good. Coach Lovie Dovie Savior Man is a retread who got canned at the last two gigs. He was the impulsive choice of a desperate Rookie AD. Overall talent for this team is mediocre.

But by all means let's insulate the comatose coach from the results.

pberg wrote on October 08, 2017 at 12:10 pm

Mooncake, just like dumbocrats, always complaiining and never any solutions to anything. 

illinifaningeorgia wrote on October 08, 2017 at 4:10 pm

We were 17-point underdogs and lost by 29 but I'm somewhat optimistic, especially about the offense.

With Junior at QB, the offense is opened up more. We won the stats game: Total Yards, Time of Possession and tied in First Downs against a good Iowa defense.  I know the ultimate stat is the final score but a lot of the problem with that has to do with the defense and the not-so-special teams play.

If Junior can reduce the turnovers, I think we can easily beat Rutgers for our one and only B1G win of the season.