Illini football not second-guessing playcalling in overtime loss

Backed up in front of its own end zone with a three-point lead and three minutes and 23 seconds remaining against Penn State on Saturday, Illinois elected to pass the ball on first down rather than run it and milk the clock.

Looking back, it’s easy to second-guess the decision, but neither head coach Tim Beckman nor offensive coordinator Bill Cubit regretted the play call when they addressed the media on Monday.

“The most important factor was making the first down,” Beckman said. “Coach Cubit felt that we weren’t running the ball extremely well. That’s been our Achilles’ heel this football season. We felt that we could get something on a play action pass, which had worked for us numerous times.”

The Illini elected to pass and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase subsequently threw an incompletion intended for tight end Evan Wilson. Illinois ran on the next two downs and was able to run the clock down to 1:39 on the punt.

Had the Illini converted the first down, the game would have been all but over.

“We were hoping to get the full back out in the flat,” Cubit said. “There’s a fine line between should I throw it or not throw it. We were going to take one shot, and the shot was you either take it third down or you take it first down. The easiest one would have been first down, with the element of surprise.”

Penn State had enough time on the clock to knock in a field goal and extend the game into overtime, where it would beat Illinois 24-17.

Freshmen cornerbacks come to play

Before settling for the game-tying field goal against the Illini, Penn State had two chances to get three yards for a first down at the Illinois 18-yard line. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg targeted Illini cornerback Darius Mosely both times, and both times Mosely did enough to force incompletions.

Mosely and cornerbacks Jaylen Dunlap and Caleb Day all saw significant time Saturday as true freshmen. With defensive back V’Angelo Bentley still out with an ankle injury, all three have seen extended reps.

“When I walk into that meeting room, there’s some talent in that corner meeting room,” Beckman said. “We’ve done a great job recruiting corners, and I believe that in the future that’s going to be one of the strong suits of the recruiting classes I’ve recruited.”

On the two plays in the fourth quarter, Mosely was guarding Nittany Lions receiver Brandon Felder. He said he first thought Hackenberg would target Penn State’s top receiver, Allen Robinson.

“But then I was like, everybody in the stadium was thinking that, so they’re probably going to try to come to the opposite side,” Mosely said.

That’s exactly what Hackenberg did. Mosely knocked the first pass down at the last second. He said he wasn’t expecting the second one to come his way, but when he saw Felder running the same route, he knew it was.

“The second one I should have had it and ended up dropping it,” he said. “It would have ended the game had I caught that.”

30-second runoff?

Near the end of the first half on Saturday, the Illini were penalized for an illegal snap, and the referee announced to the stadium that it would incur a 30-second runoff if Illinois didn’t use a timeout.

The Illini burned their final timeout and ended up being forced to kick a field goal and go into halftime trailing 14-3.

There was some confusion as to the rule, but Beckman said the referees told him it was a 10-second runoff. The referee who announced the 30-second runoff misspoke when he announced it to the stadium and television viewers. Beckman still elected to use his timeout.

“We wanted to burn it at that time so we didn’t lose those seconds,” Beckman said.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.