Football’s story keeps repeating

Regina Martinez

By Lisa Koulias

Going into the locker room at halftime Saturday, the Illinois football team had a little extra jump in its step – the team was beating Michigan 17-10. It was the team’s first Big Ten lead all season.

But just as quickly as they saw their lead accumulate in the second quarter, the Illini watched it fade away and turn into another Big Ten loss. The 30-19 outcome dropped the Illini to 0-4 in the Big Ten, while Michigan improved to 4-0.

“It was definitely frustrating,” quarterback Jon Beutjer said. “We came out in the second half with a lot of energy. We just feel like we didn’t play a complete game. We played really well in the first half offensively and defensively. But then we kind of fell apart in the second half.”

Illinois’ defense came through in the first drive of the third quarter, where Michigan brought the ball down the field 46 yards in

13 plays. But the Wolverine offense could not put any points on the board, even though they had the ball for more than six minutes.

But three plays after that drive, Beutjer threw his first interception of the season when Michigan’s Scott McClintock picked off his pass at the Illinois 30-yard line and returned it for 24 yards to the Illinois 6-yard line. Michigan scored a touchdown two plays later.

“It obviously had a huge impact on our game,” said Illinois head coach Ron Turner about Beutjer’s first interception. “In the first half, I thought our guys were fighting and competing and playing hard. At halftime we felt real good at where we were.

“Defensively, they had the ball and drove it down and had a pretty good drive going, but we got a big fourth-and-three stop, which I’ve talked many times about taking advantage of opportunities. That was one that we did. I thought defensively we did a nice job there and then to turn it around and give them the ball right back on the 6-yard line – that definitely had a huge impact on the rest of the game.”

Michigan went on to score another touchdown and complete a two-point conversion in the second half, while the Illini offense struggled to put more points on the board.

“Offensively, we have to help our defense,” Turner said. “We came out in the third quarter and went three-and-out three straight times, one of them on the third down was a turnover. We never gave our defense a chance to rest. We’ve got to do a better job offensively to help our defense. If they are going to be on the field that much and teams are going to be running them, then we need to help them out.”

Although several Illini defensive players had career-high days in tackles – including Justin Harrison, Mike Gawelek and Anthony Thornhill – Michigan’s Michael Hart ran all over the field as the freshman carried the ball 40 times for 234 yards and a touchdown.

Beutjer, who learned he would start for the Illini on Friday, was 20-of-39 for 156 yards, but also threw his first three interceptions of the season.

Sophomore running back Pierre Thomas was held to 68 rushing yards but scored two touchdowns, a 1-yard run and a 2-yard reception.

“I think we take (out of this game) that we still have to keep fighting, keep believing and stay together as a team,” Turner said. “They are giving it everything they’ve got and laying it on the line and when you do that and it doesn’t work out, it can be frustrating. But the positive is if you keep doing that, good things are going to happen.”