Boiling point: Illini's losing skid reaches seven

Boiling point: Illini's losing skid reaches seven

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —Think back to Sept. 9. Almost two months ago on the calendar. But more than that in college football years.

Back then, the Illinois offense could move the ball and help the team win a game. Like it did in a 24-7 upset against Western Kentucky.

What happened to that Illinois team? Where did 2-0 go?

Gone and goner.

Since then, the Illini are 0-7, including Saturday's 29-10 loss to Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Using its third starting quarterback of the season, freshman Cam Thomas, the Illini hung close for a half. But the untimely penalties and missed opportunities that have plagued the offense all season continued against the Boilermakers. The hosts won the second half 16-0. And it wasn't that close.

Purdue outgained the Illini 251-91 after intermission.

The offensive issues were on full display early in the third quarter. Illinois trailed just 13-10 at the time and got a huge break, courtesy of Purdue punt returner Jackson Anthrop.

Normally reliable, Anthrop dropped Blake Hayes' punt at his own 26. Michael Marchese pounced on the ball, setting up the offense for a potential go-ahead score.

That never came.Thomas opened the drive with an incomplete pass to Ricky Smalling.

No big deal. Still two more downs.

The next play, Kendrick Foster was stopped for no gain.

Still, one more chance to save the drive.

But first, freshman offensive lineman Vederian Lowe's false start. Then, a delay of game on Thomas. The drive ended on an incomplete pass intended for Malik Turner.

Another wasted possession.

"That fumble was big and we didn't take advantage of it," second-year coach Lovie Smith said.

"We never recovered from there."

Thomas took the blame.

"Those delays are on me," Thomas said. "We'll get that together."

The offense needs to finish drives, Thomas said.

Each week, Thomas becomes more familiar with the Illinois offense.

"The playbook is definitely coming to me now." Thomas said.

The Illini (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten) are frustrated. From the coach on down.

"Throughout the course of this season, we've played good halves," Smith said. "But being able to put two halves together is what we're lacking right now. We haven't been able to figure that out."

The coach and players need to deal with the piling losses.

"This loss is disappointing and it's tough and we're going to hurt," Smith said. "And we should. But then you have to move on. We can't go back and feel good about the first two wins or these losses. We're just going to feel bad about this one."

The 24 points against the Hilltoppers were the high-water mark for the season — matched in a loss against Rutgers.

"Any time you're on the field as an offense and you can't get the ball in the end zone, it's not what we're looking for," Illini lineman Christian DiLauro said. "Every time we get on the field, we're trying to put points up."

The Illinois quarterback position remains a week-to-week situation. Thomas received more of the work Saturday, hitting 10 of 20 passes for 159 yards against Purdue (4-5, 2-4).

"I feel like my passing game really took a big step in the right direction," Thomas said.

Thomas ran for another 30 yards.

"There's another weapon with him being able to run the football," Smith said. "It's a different threat at that quarterback position. Early on, that's one of the reasons we had a little bit of success offensively."

Jeff George Jr. — replaced as the starter on Saturday — didn't play as much as in recent weeks. He hit 2 of 7 attempts, including an 8-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to tie the game at 7.

"We feel like we need to pass the football, those are the plays that Jeff is in there, just as a change of pace," Smith said.

When the coaches call, George said he will be ready.

"I feel like this was a game we should have won," George said. "We could have won if we just played well. We just didn't get it done.

"I'm sick of losing. I know our guys are sick of it. We've just got to find a way to get out of this rut."

What happens next week at quarterback? That is to be determined.

"We haven't made those kind of decisions," Smith said. "We have time to do that. The way we played the game today is the way we felt we should handle the quarterback position."

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culaghter wrote on November 05, 2017 at 12:11 am

hard to believe now that  a  coach was fired for 6-6 and a bowl game...

znelson2 wrote on November 05, 2017 at 1:11 pm

That's because he mistreated the players.

Moonpie wrote on November 05, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Lovie Dovie's not the guy, Bob, and never has been. His last two jobs reflect overall mediocrity. This train is headed nowhere.

znelson2 wrote on November 05, 2017 at 3:11 pm

How does going to a super bowl reflect overall mediocrity?

jjohnson wrote on November 05, 2017 at 4:11 pm

Ignore him, znelson2, but do not let the coaches off the hook. Sitting there at Purdue, I did not see an Illinois team that looked to be well-coached, witness the stupid penalties including two off-sides on the defense. The play calling is another matter. I want Lovie to succeed, I want players to want to come here, I want the players who are here to leave with pride when they graduate, but there is a lot of work to be done — and I had predicted 6-6!

Last thought so that Nickerson cannot say it is the offense’s fault: how many times did the defense fail to contain wide plays? Was that good blocking or poor positioning?

BruckJr wrote on November 05, 2017 at 7:11 pm

On the plus side - we went an entire game without putting 12 men on the field.  Baby steps.