Column: Same old song and dance

By Darren Bailey

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Purdue marching band played a ’70s rock halftime show Saturday, featuring songs like Styx’s “Renegade,” “You Really Got Me” by Van Halen, “Bicycle Ride” by Queen and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The Illinois football team played its own classic too – Aerosmith’s “Same Old Song and Dance.”

Once again, the Illini defense came out sharp and determined to change things around. A flurry of hard hits, sacks and deflected passes afforded a Purdue offense, featuring very comparable talent to that of Illinois’, just 10 points in the first half. J Leman and Brit Miller were stuffing the run. Ryan Matha and Chris Norwell were rushing Curtis Painter. Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison played their usual punishing form of safety play, Alan Ball continued to come around and Sharriff Abdullah turned in an admirable effort while giving up a foot to 6-foot-9 giant receiver Kyle Ingraham.

Unfortunately, the Illini offense could be summed up by just one of their glorious possessions – Pierre Thomas shows some burst, coming through the line for a hard-earned 14 yards. First down. Impressive.

Then, Illinois tried to get the ball in the hands of one of its playmakers, Derrick McPhearson. The end-around is not successful due to poor blocking, but McPhearson is able to gain one yard. Second and nine. Matt Maddox is flagged for a false start and it’s now second and 14.

Tim Brasic drops back, but misses his man, Derrick McPhearson.

Third and 14. Brasic drops back again, feels pressure, rolls to his left, evades a defender, completes some kind of spin move on a phantom defender, recovers and floats a ball right into the hands of Purdue defender Stanford Keglar. The play eerily resembled something one might see when a person plays Madden for the first time and doesn’t know the buttons very well. Sad.

Possession over. Four plays and the defense is back on the field.

So the Illini trailed by only 10 at halftime. This was the week. Purdue isn’t that good; the talent on the field is fairly equal. Illinois can pull off an upset this week!

Nope. I’ve heard this song before. I’ve seen this game.

The Illinois offense comes out flat again, stops running the ball, commits penalty after penalty, loses the line blocking and leaves the defense out to dry. Except this time they add the new dimension to their repetoire – turning the ball over. Four times in fact – plus another three fumbles which were recovered by the Illini.

Now, I’ve understood Illinois’ refusal to run the ball in the past when the team gets down big early and lacks sufficient run-blocking, but that really wasn’t the case for the most part on Saturday. The team had been running the ball very well, especially Pierre Thomas and Rashard Mendenhall, and was only down by two possessions at halftime.

Still, you saw Illinois lining up in the shotgun in third-and-short situations during the second half. A short pass incomplete here, a too-slow-developing belly draw there, ineffective short down plays. The play is stopped, the possession is over, and the momentum – if you could call it that – is killed.

The penalties also have to stop. I know, I know – Illinois is the youngest team in the country. That’s fine. I do expect some mistakes. But this is now week 11. At this point the youngsters have to play like veterans. The funny thing (funny-haha or hehe?) is that many of the penalties are being committed by the upperclassmen. Mind-boggling.

All of these things end offensive drives and puts a young, try-hard but talent-lacking defense back out on the field.

If Illinois wants to put one more win on the board this year and show the seniors off with a smile, both sides of the ball are going to have to step up and play four quarters of Big Ten football.

Darren Bailey is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected]