Illini hungry for revenge over UCLA

Illinois running back E.B. Halsey (26) runs past Florida A&M; players DeAndre McKinnie (15) and Darius Fountain (42) while Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer (7) watches on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Illinois defeated Florida A&M; 52-13. Illinois takes on Shira Weissman

Illinois running back E.B. Halsey (26) runs past Florida A&M; players DeAndre McKinnie (15) and Darius Fountain (42) while Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer (7) watches on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Illinois defeated Florida A&M; 52-13. Illinois takes on Shira Weissman

By Lisa Koulias

Last year’s 6-3 loss against UCLA at the Rose Bowl marked the downfall of Illinois football. After suffering the close loss, the team continued to lose the rest of its games to finish 1-11 for the season.

But as UCLA comes to Memorial Stadium this Saturday for an 11 a.m. rematch, the Illini are looking for a little payback. Not only would revenge be sweet, but a win could help gain momentum for this team.

“The game against UCLA is going to be big,” tailback E.B. Halsey said. “We are definitely going to use that as a measuring stick of how the season should go. The game against them last year is still in our head; 6-3. It was a tough loss, but we are definitely looking forward to payback and being at home with the tremendous crowd. Things should look up for us.”

The Illinois defense was outstanding in the game as it held UCLA to only 204 total offensive yards, including 94 yards passing. The Illini sacked UCLA quarterback Drew Olson five times and allowed him to complete only 35 percent of his passes.

Offensively, the Illini were held without a touchdown for the first time since 1998. Quarterback Jon Beutjer was 26-of-42 for 216 yards. Halsey had 76 rushing yards on 24 carries.

“We had some tough breaks and we knew that even as bad as we played, it was still a close game,” Halsey said. “It was still 6-3 and our defense played well that game. If our defense can step up again this week and have a tremendous game, I know those guys are ready for the task and our offense is ready to execute and put some points on the board.”

Although the Illini are hungry for their second win, the Bruins are hungry for their first win. They lost to Oklahoma State at home last Saturday 31-20.

Illinois is definitely excited about how Oklahoma State ran the ball against UCLA. The Bruins allowed 426 rushing yards.

“We understand last year’s UCLA team had tremendous guys up front,” Halsey said. “They lost a lot of them to graduation and NFL and things like that. We know they are pretty young up front, and we are just looking forward to running the ball. It definitely opens up things early. When we establish the running game early, I think it makes it a lot easier on Jon and the receivers.”

Breaking a tie

Saturday’s game marks the 11th time the two teams have played with the series tied at five wins. This is the first time in 40 years the Bruins have traveled to Champaign, where the Illini hold a 2-1 advantage. UCLA has won the last three games against Illinois.

Illinois has two players from California, senior center Duke Preston (San Diego) and freshman wide receiver Alex Stroud (Danville).

Two in a row?

As excited as the Illini are about playing UCLA, the team is equally anxious to try to get its second win of the season.

“It would definitely be a tremendous confidence booster to get two consecutive wins,” Halsey said. “I don’t even know the last time this program had two consecutive wins. With young guys, that would definitely be a big deal for us. We would have a little more momentum going into Western Michigan and the Big Ten.”