The Daily Illini

Defense disintegrates in fourth-quarter play

By Tatiania Perry, Staff writer

The Illini defense fell apart.

In the fourth quarter Illinois allowed Penn State to score five touchdowns.

Even with the return of previously suspended players, Carmoni Green, Lou Dorsey, Nate Hobbs and Bennett Williams, Illinois still fell 63-24. Penn State marched up and down the field with what appeared to be little resistance from the Illinois defense, especially in the final quarter.

“I’m not here to fool anyone,” Green said. “That’s a great team, but we came out and played hard. We just have to finish.”

In the first three quarters, the Illini competed but couldn’t hang with the Nittany Lions in the fourth.

The game opened up with a solid showing on both sides of the ball, with Illinois forcing a fumble early on. When Penn State got on the board early in the game, Illinois responded relatively quickly. The Illini never trailed by more than two touchdowns behind the No. 10-ranked Nittany Lions until the end. At one point, they even held the lead.

On a trick play from the offense, the Illini grasped a 24-21 lead in the third. Quarterback M.J. Rivers tossed the ball to wide receiver Trenard Davis, who converted to the position in college after previously playing QB. Davis then lobbed the ball to wide receiver Ricky Smalling for a 17-yard touchdown.

Despite the score, the Illini offense played quite a strong game. On the ground, the duo of Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein combined for 24 carries for 87 and 73 yards, respectively.

The offensive line showed it could keep up with a top-10 defense. Offensive coordinator Rod Smith has transformed, arguably, the previous season’s weak link into one of the strongest pieces in the Illini puzzle.

“They fought; they never stopped. They were the only guys that stayed in the entire time and the core of our team,” Corbin said.

On defense, Bobby Roundtree collected a career-high 12 tackles, including two TFL, a sack and a pass breakup.

Although Roundtree had one of the best games of his career, the rest of the defense struggled. Missed assignments are something head coach Lovie Smith has talked about throughout the season, but it has seen little improvement.

The Illini defense left players wide open and created large windows for the Nittany Lions to run through for multiple long runs throughout the game.

“We beat ourselves. Most of the time we beat ourselves it’s not like they really beat us that bad,” Corbin said. “We beat ourselves.”

Even though the loss was predicted on many fans’ schedules, it was still hard to digest for Illinois, especially after a handful of rough moments toward the end.

“Right now, we’re devastated,” Corbin said. “We felt like we should have won that game, even if most people didn’t.”

Despite the loss, the team knows it’s something it needs to learn from and brush off. Defensive back Delano Ware reiterated the loss was devastating but they have tonight, maybe even tomorrow, to mourn; then it’s back on the field for alignment, assignment and technique.

“You can’t play much worse in the fourth quarter, but there was fight that we showed throughout, hanging in there early on to withstand a little bit of their big punch,” Lovie Smith said.

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