Illinois’ defense struggles in loss to Purdue

Purdue%27s+Austin+Appleby+%2812%29+runs+the+ball+during+the+game+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+4%2C+2014.+The+Illini+lost+38-27.
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Illinois’ defense struggles in loss to Purdue

Purdue's Austin Appleby (12) runs the ball during the game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. The Illini lost 38-27.

Purdue's Austin Appleby (12) runs the ball during the game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. The Illini lost 38-27.

Purdue's Austin Appleby (12) runs the ball during the game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. The Illini lost 38-27.

Purdue's Austin Appleby (12) runs the ball during the game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. The Illini lost 38-27.

By Sean Neumann

It should come at no surprise: The Illini’s defense was the problem in Saturday’s 38-27 loss to Purdue.

Illinois’ rushing defense ranks last in the Big Ten and the Boilermakers exposed it from the first quarter on, rushing for 349 yards on the day.

“It was aggravating,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “We didn’t play very well at all today. We didn’t coach very well at all today.”

Led by senior running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, Purdue had four rushing touchdowns on the day — two of more than 40 yard runs.

Junior linebacker Mason Monheim said the loss to Purdue hurt more than others this season.

“It sucks,” Monheim said. “For whatever reason, we’re struggling.”

The Boilermakers’ quarterback Austin Appleby joined in, rushing for 76 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start.

Appleby took a 62-yard run to the Illini 1-yard line in the third quarter, setting up Purdue’s third rushing touchdown.

“After I broke the first tackle, I was like, ‘Oh wow, here we go,’” Appleby said.

While defensive coordinator Tim Banks took a hefty amount of blame following the loss, Monheim stuck by his coach and said it’s up to the defense to execute.

“I don’t think adjustments need to be made. It’s not in the scheme,” Monheim said. “Coach Banks is a great defensive coordinator. He calls a hell of a game.”

Four different Boilermakers had runs for over 40 yards Saturday — Hunt had a 54-yard run, Mostert had a 44-yard run, Appleby had a 62-yard run, and freshman back Keyante Green had a 53-yard run.

Purdue’s Danny Anthrop tacked on an 80-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter when Illini cornerback V’Angelo Bentley missed a tackle along the sidelines.

Banks said the defensive troubles are developing from the combination of missed tackles and players being out of position.

“I’ve got to coach them better,” Banks said. “I’ve got to put those kids in a great position to be successful.”

Illini defensive lineman Austin Teitsma said the mood in the Illini locker room was filled with disappointment, having not capitalized on a game the players were expecting to win.

“It was quiet,” Teitsma said.

The Illini offense was not quiet, despite the team’s trouble on defense.

A physically struggling Wes Lunt threw for 332 yards, while freshman Mike Dudek had 200 yards receiving. Still, the Illini were the first Big Ten team to lose to Purdue since 2012.

The bad news continued for Illinois when Lunt had to be helped off the field following a sack in the fourth quarter. Second-string quarterback Reilly O’Toole played the remainder of the game, throwing for 118 yards. 

The team announced Sunday that Lunt will be out four-to-six weeks with a leg fracture. 

Illinois didn’t just struggle defensively Saturday. The Illini were four-for-eight in trips to the red zone and fumbled away the ball on one of those opportunities. Kicker David Reisner missed a point after attempt and had a field goal blocked in the fourth quarter. The Illini were also 0-for-2 on fourth down conversions.

Beckman said the next two days are crucial in building Illinois’ confidence back up.

“We’ve got to look at what we’ve got, see where the problems are and fix them,” Beckman said.

The problems are stemming from the defense, which allowed 551 yards of total offense on Saturday. And heading into a tough Big Ten schedule, with three games on the road and two ranked opponents, the fear for Illinois fans is that things won’t be fixed anytime soon.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter        @neumannthehuman.