Fumbling factor in home loss to Ohio

By Courtney Linehan

As Illinois players and coaches tried to pinpoint the cause of Saturday’s loss to Ohio, one problem continuously came up: turnovers.

The Illini fumbled six times, losing four, while Ohio bobbled the ball just once and managed to hang on to the possession.

In a game that came down to a last-minute field goal, coach Ron Zook said, the victory may have hung in that balance.

“A fraction of a second where a guy slows down, looks back, those are things you can’t have,” Zook said. “It doesn’t matter how many yards you have if you turn the ball over.”

Illinois’ costliest turnover came when wide receiver Kyle Hudson fumbled on the Illinois 16 with 1:03 left in the game.

While there is dispute over whether referees blew a whistle on the play, the end result meant Illinois lost the ball when it needed it most.

“We could have won the game if we’d taken care of the ball,” safety Kevin Mitchell said, “but we didn’t do that in all three phases of the game.”

LENTI’S BIG BREAK

Junior wide receiver Frank Lenti, Jr. scored the first touchdown of his career on a 44-yard reception to tie the game at 17-17.

“At that point in time we were just trying to move fast and get the ball down the field,” Lenti said. “Coach Locksley made a great call, saw that they were lined up. Juice put it right on the money and took it the rest of the way. At that point in time, I felt like that’s it. We’re about to turn this around right now, make a comeback.”

Lenti, who just received a scholarship this fall after being a walk-on for three seasons, had two catches for 55 yards in Illinois’ 20-17 loss to Ohio.

MCRAE MCRUNS ALL OVER ILLINI

Ohio tailback Kalvin McRae had his ninth career 100-yard rushing game Saturday, when he rushed 25 times for 111 yards against the Illini.

McRae, a junior, is a first-team all MAC performer averaging 104.8 rushing yards per game in 2005.

“We go into almost every game with Kalvin being very big in our thinking as far as trying to move the football,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “He’s been a big player for us since we, as a coaching staff, have arrived on campus.”

INJURY REPORT

Illinois quarterback Juice Williams was hit in the back during the first half and felt sore at halftime, but continued to play.

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui suffered a knee injury and missed the end of the game; his status is uncertain.

Right tackle Charles Myles was injured and missed the end of the game.

QUOTE OF THE GAME

“When I watched this team on tape I saw a lot of similarities to teams we play every week.

“We knew coming in that they were going to give us a ball game, but they didn’t make any mistakes tonight. They forced two or three turnovers and blocked a punt, and it’s hard to win games when you make mistakes like that.”

– Illinois wide receiver Frank Lenti, Jr.