Three second-half penalties prove costly in Illinois football’s one-possession loss to Rutgers


Cameron Krasucki

The Illinois offensive line huddles during the game against Rutgers at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Penalties proved critical in the Illini’s 20-14 loss.

By Jackson Janes, Sports Editor

Despite registering just three penalties on Saturday against Rutgers, the Illinois offense shot itself in the foot on each occasion, squashing any and all momentum before some drives even started.

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

On Illinois’ first drive of the second half, the Illini needed three plays to get a first down, with a 10-yard Brandon Peters pass to Donny Navarro the biggest spark. On first-and-10 at their own 36 and some momentum in their favor, the Illini moved in the wrong direction, with a 7-yard Isaiah Williams carry canceled out by a 15-yard chop block penalty on Daniel Barker moving Illinois all the way back to the 21.

The Illini offense couldn’t get going after that point, with plays of 7, 3 and 8 yards, respectively, putting Illinois 7 yards short of the first-down marker.

On its very next series, Illinois started its drive with a false start penalty, this time on center Doug Kramer. The Illini then went cold, with Peters making two short completions before missing Williams on third down and long, one of six Illinois three-and-outs in the game.

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“Having a first-and-15, a first-and-25, whenever you start a drive like that, it’s tough because you’re just in a ‘get back on track’ type of situation,” Williams said. “So, it makes it tough on the offense to be able to get first downs and to just get things going.”

After Rutgers retook the lead on a 13-play, 88-yard drive that took just over five minutes, Illinois needed to respond, and with just 16 total yards of offense in the second half at that point, the Illini offense was desperate for a spark.

And, it got one. Or so it seemed.

On third and short from the Illini 32, Peters found Michael Marchese for 5 yards and a first down, Marchese’s first career catch.

But, a 15-yard facemask penalty canceled out the vital first-down completion and moved the Illini back to their own 17, and on the next play, an incompletion was met by a chorus of boos from Illinois fans at Memorial Stadium.

“I don’t think it’s that we couldn’t find success, I mean, it’s just the penalties,” Peters said of the second-half struggles. “When you get behind the chains like that, it’s gonna make it hard to move the ball. … Penalties, that’s what really hurt us.”

Now sitting at 3-6 and on the verge of officially missing out on bowl eligibility, Illinois heads to Minneapolis to take on a red-hot Minnesota team on Nov. 6.


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