West Lafayette, Indiana- Let’s just say……… Coach Ron Zook’s chair may be getting warmer. The #23 Fighting Illini will find themselves dropped out of the Top 25 and they will also be in a state of disarray come Monday. Illinois was defeated by the Purdue Boilermakers last Saturday by a score of 21-14. Even though the score ended close, the game was not.
It was a perfect fall day in Indiana. I had the honor of seeing the Illini play the Boilermakers live. Before I get into details of the loss, let me sum it up with the following. Halfway through the 2nd quarter, I looked up at the big screen. There’s a section that shows yards of total offense. Purdue had roughly 220 yards of offense at the time, and Illinois had only 14 yards. Illinois ended up with just 128 yards in the first half and no points to show for it. That pretty much sums up the game.
Purdue received the opening the kickoff and quickly went three and out. Illinois would copy and return the favor on their next possession. On Purdue’s second possession, they found themselves at their own 35 yard line. Purdue quarterback Caleb Terbush missed the completion on his first pass, but scrambled himself on the second snap, picking up 6 yards. A pass completion to Purdue receiver Gary Bush would put Purdue towards midfield at their own 47 yard line with a first down. Purdue running back Ralph Bolden rushed the ball for one yard and Purdue faced a second and 9. Caleb Terbush threw a perfect ball to receiver Antavian Edison for a 9 yard gain, but Illini Akeem Spence would force a fumble. Illinois recovered the fumble at their own 43 yard line. Like most of the game, Illinois’ offense couldn’t move the ball. After the fumble, Illinois would rush the ball for a 3 yard loss. On second down, Nathan Scheelhaase was sacked by Purdue’s Gerald Gooden for another loss of 6 yards. Illinois stepped to the line facing a 3rd down and 19 yards to go. Jason Ford would rush the ball and make good gains, but his 13 yard rush still fell short of the first down conversion. Illinois was forced to punt. Purdue would start at their own 9 yard line. With a combination of running and short passing, Purdue would move the ball to midfield. Illini Ian Thomas would sack Purdue’s Caleb Terbush for 12 yards after a Purdue penalty for intentional grounding. Not phased, Caleb Terbush would hit senior wide receiver Justin Siller for 32 yards and find themselves in the red zone. Shortly after, Terbush would find Siller again for 6 yards and a Purdue touchdown. Illinois would get their first, first down of the game with about 3 minutes left in the first quarter. Illinois would go 3 and out on their next series of downs. The Illini punted and the first quarter would come to an end.
The second quarter would prove just as bad for the Illini. Purdue started the second quarter with the ball and would march down the field without hesitation. Purdue running back Raheem Mostert would score on a 21 yard run to put the Boilers up by two scores. Illinois would start their first possession of the second quarter at their own 20 yard line. Nathan Scheelhaase took the first snap and the Purdue pressure proved too much for him. Scheelhaase was sacked by Purdue linebackers Joe Holland and Dwayne Beckford for a loss of 5 yards. Illini running back Donovonn Young would follow with a 9 yard rush, but an incompletion by Scheelhaase would get their punting unit on the field. Illinois punter Justin DuVernois mishandled the snap at the Illini 14 yard line and was forced to scramble holding the ball. Purdue’s Raheem Mostert would make the tackle and give the Boilers the ball already inside the red zone. Two minutes and 14 yards later, Caleb Terbush would find Purdue fullback Jared Crank on a 4 yard pass. This score would make the score 21-0 with the Boilers in the lead and the Illini in a state of dismay. Nathan Scheelhaase reacted, he found Illini running back Jason Ford for a 19 yard gain and the first down. Next snap, Scheelhaase would throw to Illini receiver A.J. Jenkins and he would take the ball 12 yards for another first down. Illinois would now have the ball in Boiler territory. The next series, the Purdue defensive line would keep the pressure going. Nathan Scheelhaase would have two incompleions and Donovonn Young would run to no yardage. Illinois would soon punt. Purdue would go 3 and out on their next possession, leaving 4:46 left in the half. Jason Ford had two decent rushes for minimal yards. Nathan Scheelhaase then found Jason Ford for an 8 yard reception. Looking for answers, Illinois coach Ron Zook would replace Nathan Scheelhaase with freshman quarterback Reilly O’Toole. Reilly O’Toole would move the offense. He’d find 4 different receivers on the next four passes and move the ball 26 yards to the Illini 47 yard line. After a Purdue penalty, O’Toole looked for Jenkins deep. He threw from the Purdue 46 yard line all the way towards the end zone, but Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen was there. Ricardo Allen ignored the size difference and beat A.J. Jenkins for the ball and intercepted it. The Illini downward spiral continued. Purdue was forced to punt as the half came close to ending. On Illinois’ last possession of the half, Nathan Scheelhaase scrambled 17 yards and as he was tackled by Purdue, he then tossed the ball to Jason Ford. Ford would take the ball 17 more yards to the Purdue 21 yard line, but with no time left on the clock, Illinois went to the locker room scoreless.
The third quarter would be uneventful. Purdue would play it safe and do many rushing plays to eat clock time and the Illini would once again be unable to move the ball. To keep attentions, we’ll just move on to the fourth quarter.
Purdue would stick to their third quarter gameplay in the fourth quarter. They started with some rushing and some quick passing to eat away clock time. Illinois would receive a Purdue punt at their own 40 yard line on their first, fourth quarter possession. Nathan Scheelhaase orchestrated a 12 play, 60 yard drive that ended with a 16 yard Jason Ford touchdown rush. The drive took 4:22 off the clock. The Cardiac Kids (Illinois) would finally put points on the board and give Purdue the ball with a little over 10 minutes left to play. Purdue would make 8 plays for 32 yards and eat another 4 minutes of the clock. Purdue would then punt again. Illinois would finally have momentum, but with just 3:57 left in the game, desperation mode would kick in. Illinois would move another 90 yards on 12 plays with Nathan Scheelhaase rushing the ball in to put the score 21-14. Would Illinois make another heartpounding comeback with just under a minute left in the game? Illinois went for the onside kick, but a bad kick would go straight to Purdue’s Justin Siller. With just 2 timeouts left and 54 seconds left, the game would end with an Illini loss there.
Where do we put the blame? Do we blame coach Ron Zook and his gameplan? Do we blame the play of the offense? Do we blame the play of the defense? I don’t blame any part of the Illini team. Purdue was ready and came to play. They did their homework and they knew what they had to do. Purdue’s Caleb Terbush was technically sound. Purdue’s offensive line kept the pressure off of their quarterback. It also kept the nation’s leading sacker, Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus, out of the equation. He recorded 0 sacks against the Boilers. The Purdue defensive line put pressure on Scheelhaase, forcing mistakes and bad judgement. It also forced Scheelhaase to be sacked 4 times. A.J. Jenkins had 8 catches for 92 yards, but Purdue’s secondary kept him out of the endzone. Purdue kept Nathan Scheelhaase to 217 yards passing. He also had 13 carries for just 16 yards. They eliminated the threats knowing their was no options. Illinois’ other receivers will have to become “go to” guys like Jenkins. It’s been prove that without Jenkins making plays, the passing game is diluted. Jenkins is responsible for 60% of the receiving offense. That’s a substantial number.
Purdue was able to learn from mistakes made in previous games and improve upon them. It seems as though Illinois 6-0 start has dampered that possibility. The mistakes and inefficiencies that Illinois had in the loss to Ohio State, were back in their game against the Boilers.
Illinois will travel to Happy Valley next Saturday where they’ll face the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State is one of the nation’s top defenses. This will be another test to see if the Illini are the product of a great team or the product of an easy schedule.