Illinois football struggles in second half in 20-14 loss to Rutgers


Cameron Krasucki

Isaiah Williams shakes off a tackle en route to a 52-yard touchdown in the first half against Rutgers on Saturday. The Illini fell to the Scarlet Knights, 20-14, after getting shut out in the second half.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

Illinois football lost, 20-14, to Rutgers this Saturday in their Dads’ Weekend matchup. 

Brandon Peters was back in the starting lineup at quarterback after Artur Sitkowski was ruled out for the season when he broke his arm in last week’s matchup against Penn State. 

“This one hurt more just for the simple fact (that) last week we had kind of a shift,” said wide receiver Isaiah Williams. “We had a win against a top-ranked opponent. … Coming from a win like that and then just losing this week is tough. All of them hurt because you want to win every game. The biggest (reason) why it hurts is because you get the feeling that we had last week where it felt great. When you win, it feels good, most definitely against an opponent like that. And you want to feel it again. When you don’t have a chance to feel it again, it just hurts.”

The Scarlet Knights opened the game with the ball, but the Illini held them to a pair of first downs before forcing a punt. The Illinois offense, however, opened the game even slower, going three-and-out. 

The Rutgers offense got going on the next drive, with starter Noah Vedral opening with a 12-yard rush that knocked him out of the game with an injury. Backup Cole Snyder held up well, leading the rest of the drive that ultimately included nine rushes and one pass, culminating in a touchdown rush by Kyle Monangai to go up 7-0. 

Illinois continued its slow start, going three-and-out again, but this time the defense stepped up and held Rutgers to a three-and-out themselves. The Illini then got the ball back and went with two short Josh McCray rushes, ending the first quarter without a single first down. 

Once the second quarter began, the Illini offense came alive. Peters came out and connected on a 21-yard pass to Daniel Barker, but Illinois wasn’t able to get much further down the field and ended up punting again. The Rutgers offense remained quiet, being forced into another three-and-out on their next drive. 

On Illinois’ next drive, Brandon Peters finally found the end zone. On third-and-1 on the Illinois 48, Peters connected with Isaiah Williams for a 52-yard touchdown, his deepest pass of the season. 

On their next drive, Noah Vedral returned to the game and immediately made an impact. On a pair of long passes, Vedral got the Scarlet Knights into the red zone before the Illini defense clamped up and held them to a field goal. 

Afterward, both offenses stalled again. The Illini went three-and-out, but Rutgers proceeded to do the same and give the ball back to Illinois. On their next drive, Peters put together what was possibly the most coherent and efficient drive the Illini have had all year, going for 80 yards on four plays in 44 seconds. 

Peters started with a 31-yard pass to Casey Washington. Then, Peters ran it for 8 yards himself before Chase Brown went on his own 15-yard run. Peters then connected with Daniel Barker for the 26-yard touchdown. 

The Rutgers offense couldn’t get anything going in the next minute and a half, sending the game into halftime with Ilinois up 14-10. Peters went into halftime with stronger stats than he’s had in almost any game overall this year, going 9/12 for 153 yards and two touchdowns. 

Illinois opened the second half with the ball, but couldn’t get much going on offense. Rutgers seemingly took advantage on offense, getting to the Illinois 28-yard line before attempting a 46-yard field goal. However, the kick ended up far short of the goal posts, keeping the Illini on top 14-10. 

The Illinois offense remained stagnant on its next drive, going three-and-out for the fourth time. On Rutgers’ next drive, Vedral went down with another injury, grabbing his shoulder after leading his team to the Illinois 33. In came a different backup quarterback, Gavin Wimsatt, who found a way to keep the drive alive by converting on a fourth-and-5.

On the next play, Vedral found a way back into the game. After a five-yard Isaih Pacheco run, Vedral took it in himself, rushing for a 15-yard touchdown to give Rutgers a 17-14 lead. 

Illinois then went three-and-again, being slowed by a 15-yard facemask penalty by Julian Pearl. Rutgers went three-and-out themselves, but pinned the Illini on their own 1-yard line with a little less than ten minutes left in the game.

Illinois then went three-and-out for the sixth time of the game, punting to the tune of the Illinois home crowd’s clear displeasure. The Rutgers offense then came out in assertive fashion, using a few rushing plays to get to the Illinois 9-yard line before being stopped short of the touchdown and settling for a field goal to go up 20-14.

Illinois got the ball back with roughly three and a half minutes left in the game and knew they needed to score a touchdown. Chase Brown got them started with a pair of solid runs before Peters completed a 12-yard pass to Luke Ford.

The Illini then rushed the ball with Jakari Norwood, getting down to a fourth and 1 situation on the Rutgers 34-yard line. They ran the ball with Chase Brown, who was stopped short of the conversion, costing the Illini the game.

After the game, head coach Bret Bielema chalked up the loss primarily to untimely penalties.

“We’re one of the best in the league with (having) the least amount of penalties,” Bielema said. “We only had three today, but they were three critical ones. … Three successive drives, three penalties. These guys get tired of me saying it, but it is 100% true: Penalties, mental errors, and turnovers are what make you lose games. Today was the definition of that.”

With the offense going cold from the penalties, the game became a tale of two halves in which the Illini were strong initially but flamed out by the end. Moving forward, a major focus for the Illini will be discipline on penalties and working to be more consistent on offense.

“Very discouraging,” Bielema said. “Wanted to play well here at home. Kind of like we’ve experienced here a little bit; we’ve done really good things for a while, but we can’t play a four-quarter game at home. It’ll be our challenge to do that.”



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