Illini fall to Huskies 34-24

CHICAGO — In the stadium that hosts the “Monsters of the Midway,” there wasn’t much defense to be found from Illinois at Soldier Field on Saturday.

The Illini surrendered 615 yards en route to a 34-24 loss to No. 19 Washington. The game could have swung dramatically in Illinois’ favor on a handful of near-miss plays.

Despite both offenses averaging nearly 500 yards per game coming into the contest, neither unit could get any traction in a scoreless first quarter.

The Illini offense was able to move the ball early in the game — only to backfire when it got in scoring range. Illinois marched down the field on its opening drive in seven plays, amassing 46 yards before Ryan Lankford was hit for a two-yard loss and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was sacked to push Illinois out of field goal range.

Two drives later, the Illini were again knocking on the door at the Washington 15-yard line, but Scheelhaase took another sack, one of four he absorbed in the first half, turning a short field goal attempt into a 41-yard try. Kicker Taylor Zalewski missed it wide right, and Illinois was kept off the board.

“We didn’t make plays when we needed to make plays,” head coach Tim Beckman said. “We left some points out there on the field early in the game.”

It wasn’t until the second half when both offenses hit their strides with the score 10-3 in favor of Washington. The third quarter struggles continued for the Illini, as they surrendered 75 yards on 7 plays to open the half and fall behind 17-3. Coming out strong to begin the second half was a chronic issue for much of last season and the first two contests of 2013 for the Illinois defense.

After matching 10-play touchdown drives on either side, Washington landed what seemed to be a knockout blow with 3:32 left in the third quarter. After a 43-yard completion to Kasen Williams, Washington punched in another touchdown to go up 31-10 and suck the life out of the crowd.

The Illinois offense would have a quick response as the first play after the Washington score was a 72-yard bomb from Scheelhaase to Lankford brought the game back to two scores.

“Anytime you can make plays, or put yourself to make plays, at the end of the day, words can’t describe it,” Lankford said.

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit would reach deep into his bag of tricks in the fourth quarter to bring the Illini within a touchdown. Out of the wildcat formation, freshman Aaron Bailey handed off to former quarterback Miles Osei who lofted a pass to tight end Matt LaCosse for a 35-yard gain. Later in the drive on 4th and 1, Cubit went back to the same formation but Bailey kept it on a 10-yard touchdown run.

The Illini defense, on the field for more than 19 minutes in the second half couldn’t muster another stop, and the Huskies notched a field goal to push the lead to 34-24 and put the game out of reach.

Scheelhaase had by far his worst statistical performance of the season, throwing for just 156 yards and completing 36 percent of his throws.

Huskies running back Bishop Sankey finished with 271 all-purpose yards and two total touchdowns as the junior was the focal point of the offense, particularly in the second half. Washington showed offensive balance with quarterback Keith Price finishing 28-35 for 342 yards and two touchdowns.

“The obvious miscues was the missed tackles,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “But are we straining off of blocks, and are we in the right position schematically; are things we have to pay attention to when watching the film.”

Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon.