Putting all the pieces together

Shira Weissman

Shira Weissman

By Lisa Koulias

This season, Illinois football thinks it has all the right pieces to win a Big Ten football game. They just haven’t been able to fit them together correctly.

There have been big offensive games, games when the defense didn’t resemble last year’s and games when special teams really shined.

But in Saturday’s 24-7 loss against Wisconsin, the pieces didn’t fit together once again, and the Illini found themselves in a familiar position – as the losing team.

“It just seems like we haven’t been able to put all three phases together and I think we can do that,” linebacker Matt Sinclair said. “I think we can easily play with any team in the conference – there is no doubt in my mind. It’s time to put everything together and stop talking about it.”

But the Illini, who fell to 2-3 for the season, 0-2 in the Big Ten, are tired of just “playing” with teams. They want to win.

“We are coming out to win football games and if we don’t do that and if we don’t make plays and take advantage of opportunities to win the game, then we aren’t happy,” Illini head coach Ron Turner said. “That’s why we came in here. It’s not about playing competitive or playing close or fighting or doing all that. That stuff’s expected. We have to find a way to make plays and give us opportunities to win games. And when we start doing that, we will start winning games.”

Snap decisions

Instant replay was used for the first time in an Illini game on Saturday.

In the third quarter, quarterback Jon Beutjer hit wide receiver Franklin Payne for a 20-yard pass on the Illinois sideline. Payne appeared to have caught the ball before falling out of bounds and the play was initially ruled a catch. However, the Technical Advisor reviewed the play, and it was determined that Payne did not make the catch. The procedure took 55 seconds.

“I saw the play on the sideline, I was right by it, and I thought he had it tucked away. If I would have thought it was going to be challenged, I would have told them to hurry up and get up and go,” Turner said. “I really didn’t think it was going to be an overturned type of play. And we need to learn from that. I didn’t think it was that close.”

New arrivals

Offensive coordinator Dan Roushar had quite a day on Saturday. Roushar’s wife, Patti, gave birth to the couple’s first son, Dan Jr., early Saturday morning. Roushar had to drive to Champaign at 5:30 a.m., but he returned in time for the game. Dan Jr. was 8 lbs., 9 oz. and 21.5 inches long.

Starting strong

Freshman Justin Harrison made his first start of the season at free safety. Harrison, who started in place of junior Travis Williams, had 10 tackles (3 solo, 7 assisted).

“We made a change really because Travis is not 100 percent,” Turner said. “Travis is banged up; he’s got a hip flexor (injury)… And he’s been battling along with it, so we wanted to see how he was.”

Harrison, a Bloomington, Ill., native, earned all-state honors his senior year, when he made 119 tackles, 21 tackles-for-loss and caused four fumbles.

Injury report

Sophomore Lonnie Hurst left the game in the fourth quarter on crutches with ice on his right knee. The wide receiver tried to make an end zone catch but was knocked down. Turner said it looked like an ACL injury.

Hurst started all nine games he appeared in last year before suffering a season-ending broken leg.