Homecoming hype can’t produce win

Online Poster

By Lisa Koulias

Saturday’s Homecoming game against Iowa was just like any other Illinois football game this season. The Illini lost their 14th consecutive Big Ten game, much like they lost all their other Big Ten games this year – with turnovers and missed opportunities.

Iowa capitalized on an Illinois fumble in the third quarter and an interception in the fourth to get a 23-13 win over the Illini and lock up a bowl bid.

The Illini, however, found themselves in a similar position – at the bottom of the Big Ten.

“There is no question about it; the whole football team needs to learn how to win again,” Illinois head coach Ron Turner said. “We are fighting, competing and doing some good things, but we don’t know how to win right now. We had the game tied at halftime with an opportunity to come out strong, and we made mistakes. We make mistakes and the other guys don’t. When we turn the ball over and the other team doesn’t, it makes it tough to win.”

Illinois started the game with great energy as the defense held Iowa to three plays in its first series. The Illini, who started their drive on the 49-yard line, drove the ball down the field and scored a touchdown, giving the Illini a surge of energy and a 7-0 lead.

“On the first drive, you have to give them credit,” Iowa’s Matt Roth said. “They came out getting rid of the ball quick and making catches. They put a good drive together and put seven on the board quick.”

But after that, the Illini offense shut down and did not score again until its final drive of the game.

One huge factor that played into Illinois’ lack of offense was the wind that gusted as fast as 40 mph.

Turner said after the game that the team’s game plan was to pass the ball often, but when the Illini played into the wind for two quarters they had to come up with another game plan – running the ball.

“The impact was huge for both teams,” Turner said. “We work all week and come up with our game plan, and then the wind becomes a factor and it throws the game plan out the window for two quarters. Even when we were with the wind, it was very difficult to throw the ball. The wind decreases your chances of being accurate when throwing the ball long. Going into the wind, neither team could throw the ball more than a few yards down the field, so you have to be able to run the ball. Iowa was fourth in the nation against the run, so our plan coming out was to throw the ball early and often.”

Without running back Pierre Thomas, who Turner said was really sore and did not practice throughout the week, the Illini had to rely on E.B. Halsey and Jason Davis to carry the running game. The two combined for a total of 53 of the team’s 58 rushing yards. Iowa’s running backs rushed for 76 yards.

Kendrick Jones scored both of Illinois’ touchdowns and finished the day with 84 receiving yards.

Redshirt freshman Brad Bower, Illinois’ new starting quarterback, played three quarters of the game, going 10-of-17 for 81 yards. He connected with Jones in the first quarter for a touchdown.

Jon Beutjer took over the offense in the fourth quarter against his former teammates and was able to get the offense going again. In one quarter of play, Beutjer was 12-of-25 for 129 yards and a touchdown.

After the game, Turner said Bower would continue to be the team’s starter.

“Right now Brad is our starter. We still have a lot of confidence in him and we think he can play,” Turner said. “Brad was under difficult circumstances today. In the first quarter when we had the wind, he was able to do some things. We only had two possessions with the wind, and we scored on one of them and were backed up on the other, and that makes it tough. The other time he was in we were going into the wind, which basically eliminated 90 percent of our game plan. The things we were working on and wanted to do, we couldn’t because of the conditions.”