Grading Illinois’ 29-10 loss at Purdue

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini football writers graded each facet of the Illinois football team’s 29-10 loss to Purdue on Saturday.

Offense: D

The Illini offense could not sustain any sort of rhythm against the Boilermaker defense. The offensive line was terrible. The freshman linemen really struggled to give running back Kendrick Foster room to work. Nick Allegretti was moved to center and had a few snaps go awry in exchanges with quarterback Cam Thomas. The freshman quarterback showed glimpses of his talent again, but he made some youthful mistakes. Thomas took a few delay-of-game penalties that pushed the Illini out of manageable yardage to convert first downs. He also missed some throws to Louis Dorsey and Malik Turner that could have extended drives. Jeff George Jr. also received some playing time, and managed to add to his seven-interception total on the season. Overall, the line needs to improve, and the freshmen have to continue to grow.

Defense: D

There was a good chance that whenever Purdue quarterback David Blough dropped back to pass, he would find a receiver. The Illini linebackers and secondary were not as impressive as they had been in recent weeks. Jamal Milan and Del’Shawn Phillips performed well, but that was about it. Blough could have thrown for more pass yards, but Purdue was rightfully content keeping it on the ground. The defensive line did not get much pressure on Blough. The lone Illinois sack came in garbage time when James Crawford went to the quarterback without being touched. Head coach Lovie Smith has told his players that if his team does not force turnovers, he expects the loss. The defense did not force any turnovers and didn’t have much energy or enough impact plays to give the team momentum. The unit will have to improve its pass defense for a win against Indiana next week.

Special Teams: B

Punter Blake Hayes was Illinois’ most effective player. That says a lot about how the team fared, but Hayes himself was excellent. He punted six times and averaged 40.7 yards per punt. He pinned Purdue inside the 20 twice, and one of his punts was muffed by the Purdue returner and recovered by Illinois. The Illini could’ve pinned the Boilermakers inside the five once more, but the gunners couldn’t get in position to keep the ball out of the end zone after it bounced. Kicker Chase McLaughlin also chipped in his one short field goal attempt.

Coaching: D+

The coaching staff essentially handed Cam Thomas the reigns this week after two weeks of splitting time with Jeff George Jr., but it was met with mostly poor results. Thomas avoided turning the ball over, but he missed many throws that you would expect a Big Ten-level passer to make without much trouble. There were times where the play that Offensive Coordinator Garrick McGee called clearly worked, but Thomas was simply unable to execute the throw. Defensively, the Illini continued to get scorched on crossing routes over the middle of the field, and they had no answer to the Boilermaker run game either. Like the offense, some of that falls on the players, but the coaching staff has to take some of the blame as well.