Illini close nonconference schedule with loss to Louisiana Tech

The Illinois defense held Louisiana Tech under its 56-point scoring average—but not by much.

And unfortunately for the Illini, they managed just 24 points in a 52-24 blowout loss to the Bulldogs under the Memorial Stadium lights on Saturday night.

Illinois turned the ball over six times and allowed the Louisiana Tech offense to put up over 50 points for the third straight week.

“You’re not going to beat anybody when you turn the ball over as much as we did, plain and simple,” said sophomore quarterback Reilly O’Toole. “I thought we moved the ball well, we just would shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers.”

Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who missed the last two games with an ankle injury, led the first scoring drive of the game, putting the Illini up 7-0 with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Lankford. He subsequently threw an interception and fumbled the ball on back-to-back possessions and was pulled in the first quarter in favor of sophomore Reilly O’Toole.

“He looked rusty early with a couple of turnovers and we weren’t moving the ball, so we decided as a coaching staff that we would give Reilly an opportunity,” Beckman said of the decision to sit Scheelhaase. “And he came in and moved the ball for us.”

O’Toole finished with 120 yards on 19-for-25 passing and was sacked four times. The Illini held the Bulldogs scoreless in the second quarter and cut the lead to 21-17 before the half. But the game turned ugly for Illinois from there.

As Louisiana Tech exploded for 24 points in the third quarter, the Illini crumbled and the majority of the Memorial Stadium crowd headed for the exits.

“Going into halftime, we had them where we wanted them,” linebacker Jonathan Brown said. “We just didn’t come out in the second half and execute.”

Two weeks after giving up 45 points to Arizona State, the Illini defense was torched by Bulldogs quarterback Colby Cameron, who threw for 284 yards and four touchdowns with a preferred target of senior wide receiver Quinton Patton, who caught six balls for 164 yards and two scores.

“We can play with anybody in this country,” Patton said. “We’re not afraid of anybody.”

With the loss, the Illini closed out the nonconference schedule with an even 2-2 record and will look to rebound against Penn State next week as Big Ten play begins.

“We’re far from hitting the panic button,” Scheelhaase said. “Starting out 4-0 last year in the nonconference didn’t do us much good at the end of the season. … Finding a way to be the best team in our conference is what we should be focused on because it is wide open.”

_Chad can be reached at [email protected] and @cthornburg10._