Illinois tops Youngstown State, 28-17
August 30, 2014
It was not the fast start head coach Tim Beckman had been wanting for the Illinois football team. Instead, the fate of Saturday’s game was left to the fourth quarter where the offense exploded with three touchdowns in a 28-17 win over Youngstown State.
In front of a crowd of 36,234, the Illini were able to extend their consecutive home-opening winning streak to 17.
While Illinois managed to even out the possession time by the fourth quarter, overall the team struggled to keep the offense on the field. Youngstown State maintained possession for 40:01 compared to Illinois, who held onto the ball for only 19:59.
The defense, which had allowed on average 481.5 total offense yards per game last season, held the Penguins to 380 yards. It held Youngstown State running back Martin Ruiz to 121 rushing yards on 32 carries and one touchdown.
“It was just the energy,” said nose tackle Austin Teitsma, who had three solo tackles, six assisted tackles and half a sack. “Everyone was just so excited. We were all just so juiced and feeding off of each other. And I think our pursuit of the ball was huge, I haven’t seen that in a long time. It seemed that 11 hands were at the ball pretty much every down.”
While the defense contained Youngstown State, the Illinois offense put its faith in sophomore quarterback Wes Lunt, who went 24-for-38 with 285 passing yards. He went 9-for-11 in the fourth quarter, with 155 yards.
Jon Davis, Mike Dudek, Josh Ferguson and Martize Barr all scored touchdowns.
“I thought the guys that hadn’t played Division I college football in the Big Ten responded,” Beckman said. “You’ve got a Mikey Dudek, who makes a great catch after dropping one. You’ve got a Malik Turner, who makes a big play when you need that. It’s refreshing to see that as a coach because these players have worked their butts off.”
And while the offense eventually converted the plays into scores, it was the special teams that set up key opportunities.
In the second quarter, V’Angelo Bentley completed a 67-yard kickoff return that set up Illinois’s first touchdown drive to make the score 7-6.
With less than 30 seconds in the third quarter, a blocked punt, which went off the back of one of the Youngstown State players and allowed the Illini to start a drive on the Penguins 35-yard line. This led to Dudek’s first collegiate touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.
“When I saw the punter and he brought it down, acting like he was going to run it to the side and go for the first down, I saw the three gladiators run out,” said defensive lineman Joe Fotu, who was battling the Penguin lineman who the ball was punted off of. “I had to contain, keep containing. I ran to the gladiators. As soon as I saw him drop the ball and try and kick it, I pushed one of the gladiators into the punt and that’s how we got the blocked kick.”
While the Illini got the win today, a quicker start will be critical in the coming games for the team.
“It’s going to be something we harp on as a football program until we get it,” Beckman said. “It’s very important that we come out of the gate faster than we’ve been.”
Charlotte can be reached at [email protected] and @charlottecrrll.