Game story: No relief in sight for Illini football team

Game story: No relief in sight for Illini football team

CHAMPAIGN — For Illinois fans, eight is enough. For Illinois players, eight is too many.

Eight as in losses. In a row. Nothing magical about it.

"It's about consistency," Illinois linebacker Tre Watson said. "So far, in the last two years under the new staff, we haven't been able to get that. Really, in my whole time here, we haven't been able to get that in all phases. That's what contributes to wins."

Previously-winless-in-the-Big Ten Indiana delivered the latest mark in the right-hand column. The Hoosiers did just enough in a 24-14 victory in front of 40,195 at chilly Memorial Stadium.

"When you've lost as many games as we have, it's tough," Illinois coach Lovie Smith said. "It's not like the guys aren't trying, playing hard, doing their best. We're not a good football team right now."

In the locker room, there was disappointment.

As there should be.

"You ever walk into a losing locker room?" Watson said. "It's going to be the same thing most of the time. If guys aren't upset, I don't know why you're here. I don't know why you are playing this game if you are OK with losing."

Is there anger?

"It doesn't go to the point of lashing out," Watson said. "But certainly, everyone is frustrated from the top down. Guys know there are plays that they missed. I myself am thinking of them right now. You wish you could have situations back."

Changes are needed.

"Guys need to be able to make plays," Watson said. "Not 40 plays out of an 80-play game. They need to be making them every single play. If you're on the football field, you have a job and everyone else is relying on you to make a play. If you're not making a play, you're costing the team, and you're a liability."

Effort is not the issue.

"I think we're playing hard football, which is something I couldn't say earlier in the season," offensive lineman Nick Allegretti said.

The bulk of the blame during the eight-game skid goes to the offense. The Illini have been held under 20 points in six of its seven Big Ten losses.

"Offensively, it's tough duty when you can't run the football," Smith said after the Illini netted 30 yards on 33 carries.

The defense isn't blameless, either. As it has done often this season, the unit gave up a score late in the first half. That turned a one-play-away 7-0 margin to a much-more-comfortable 14-0 Indiana advantage.

Illinois (2-8, 0-7 Big Ten) tried to catch up. On the first play of the third quarter, Jeff George Jr. connected with wide-open tight end Louis Dorsey for a 77-yard touchdown.

"We needed to do something to get back in the game," Smith said. "To have that early success like that gave us some momentum, gave us a spark."

But the Illini were never able to take the lead in the second half. Illinois cut the gap to 17-14 early in the fourth quarter.

"We haven't taken the ball away enough on the defensive side of the ball," Smith said.

The coaches also earned some of the blame. Late in the game, the Illini had to burn two timeouts as the Hoosiers (4-6, 1-6) prepared to punt.

"Bad coaching on our part," Smith said. "We called time because we had too many guys on the field. That's on us. That's on me."

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88illiniwek wrote on November 11, 2017 at 10:11 pm

Illinois football must find a Power 5 conference caliber QB and an O-line that can protect him. Until then, get used to losing. 

eyepatch wrote on November 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

Lovie - in the three years here - has made clock management errors on multiple occassions. Coming out of time outs his teams have been called for delay of game. And this game there were more clock management errors that he at least admitted to. He claims the college game isn't different than the pro game - but he can't bring in players on Tuesday to try out, and he runs off his walk-ons so the players beat each other up all season. McGee puts 18 year olds at tackle - and their penalties, due much of the time to youth, along with their general inexperience cost the team. And McGee plugs and plays his quarterbacks, with a lack of results that match the lack of consisten play they get. Lovie continues to get a free pass, but sooner, rather than later, he also needs to release his offensive coordinator. NO progress on the offensive side. Nickerson's defense at least - if they had an offense to help them stay off the field - gives the team any semblence of an opportunity. Meanwhile, the rest of the B1G continues improving. This season - and the careers of the upper classmen - are shot. Gads. Where is Bill Cubit when you need him???

Moonpie wrote on November 12, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Aw Shucks Lovie Dovie was a desperate choice by a rookie AD. He is a mediocre coach at best and fired from his last two jobs and looking at it once again after next year.

But the Cheerleader Gazoo will cover for him until it's time to toss him under the bus.

jjohnson wrote on November 13, 2017 at 6:11 pm

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that a commentor complaining about Lovie's clock management miscounts the number of years Lovie has been here? Of course, the coaching staff, especially on special teams, HAS screwed up on at least four occasions -- 2 too many on the field, 1 not anticipating an onside kick, another sending someone out to receive a punt who does not know the rules.