Game notes: 'We need to eliminate the string of mistakes'

Game notes: 'We need to eliminate the string of mistakes'

CHAMPAIGN — Jeff George Jr. was back in charge at the start of the game.

And for every snap.

Just how he wants it to be. Except for the final score.

Last week's starter, Cam Thomas, sat out Saturday's 24-14 loss to Indiana with an undisclosed ailment.

George did some good (261 yards, two touchdowns) and some bad (eight sacks, three turnovers).

"We've got to find ways to make plays when we're out there," George said.

The mistakes Illinois makes seem to come at the worst time.

And in bunches.

"It's been a recurrent problem of when one thing happens, they build and another bad thing happens." George said. "We need to eliminate the string of mistakes."

George knew after the Purdue game that he would likely start for Thomas, who left the field late against the Boilermakers.

Illinois coach Lovie Smith is hoping to get Thomas back on the field soon.

"We'll see," Smith said.George's teammates aren't worried about the mistakes bothering him too long.

"I think Jeff is pretty strong-willed," tight end Caleb Reams said. "He knows that he has to bounce back."George's favorite target Saturday was tight end Louis Dorsey, who caught three passes for 107 yards.

"It felt good, but we didn't get the W," Dorsey said.

Dorsey scored on a 77-yard catch and run to start the second half.

Indiana tried to cover him with a strong safety. It did not go well for the Hoosiers.

"I like me over anybody man-to-man," Dorsey said.

Later in the game, Dorsey took a hard fall on his head. He returned later.

Dorsey's TD catch was one yard longer than teammate Ricky Smalling's big play earlier in the season.

"Our (receiver) room is full of competitors," Dorsey said.Starting safety Bennett Williams — one of the team's most productive defenders this season — was held out of Saturday's game.

"It hurts when you don't have one of your best players," Smith said.

"He broke a team rule. That's why he wasn't out there."

Williams was missed.

"He's a talented football player," linebacker Tre Watson said. "Another young guy who has made a lot of splash plays and grown a lot."Jaylen Dunlap finally got one. His first career interception. It came in the second quarter off of Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow.

"It felt real good," Dunlap said. "I was just itching for one."

He wants another one.

"We have two games left and I want to finish with more."A year ago, Illinois linebacker Del'Shawn Phillips was starring on a team that won the junior college national championship. Now, he is in the middle of an eight-game losing streak.

"I've been at the highest level and the lowest level," Phillips said. "I know as a team you've got to stick together, keep working to be able to get to where we want to be."Going into Saturday's game, Reamshad no catches in eight games this season for the Illini. He made the most of his second grab, scoring a touchdown on a 14-yard pass from George early in the fourth quarter. Reams' TD cut the Indiana lead to 17-14.

"It feels great," Reams said. "Really wish we would have pulled it out and got the win. It was my first (TD), hopefully not the last."

The call was a screen.

His teammates helped with blocks.

"The guy slipped though," Reams said. "I just put my hand on his head, pushed him down and tried to keep my balance and score."

The play was originally reviewed by the replay official.

"I knew right when I put the ball in the end zone that I wasn't down," Reams said.

Reams finished with two catches.

"I feel like I've been working hard," he said.After missing three games with a knee injury, Watson was back on the field against the Hoosiers.

"He jumped right back in," Smith said. "Tre's a smart guy, knows the defense. He was able to practice all last week. We need him."

Watson finished with six tackles. He was happy to be back.

"It felt great," he said. "Doctors had told me four to six weeks. I just pushed through every day through rehab. I had to sit there and watch practice every day. That's my first time ever missing games in my entire career. It was tough.

"It felt good to be contributing. It felt like I gained some worth again."

Watson found out earlier in the week he was going to be allowed to play.

"They said it was up to me and I wanted to go," Watson said.Already banged up going into the game, the Illini lost more key players Saturday. Linebacker Dele Harding and defensive tackle Jamal Milan left early.

"We'll kind of see where they are," Smith said.

"We're missing a lot of guys. That's reality."

Two of the team's top receivers, Mikey Dudek and Malik Turner, didn't play.

Will Dudek return this season?

"Two games left to go, don't know," Smith said. "Big question mark."The Illini played without defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson. He was back in California for the funeral of his mother, who died unexpectedly earlier in the week.

Smith said he expects Nickerson to be back with the team for the Ohio State game.

Bob Asmussen