On a cold and blustery Military Appreciation Day and Senior Day at Memorial Stadium, No. 21-ranked Illinois football program took on Purdue, but the rivalry game didn’t go exactly as hoped for the home team.
The Illinois offensive attack leaned on its workhorse Chase Brown early and often on the first drive against a Purdue defense that gave up 200 yards to Iowa running back Kaleb Johnson last week. Illinois quarterback Tommy DeVito did his thing orchestrating a steady Illini offense. After that? It was an up-and-down game stymied by untimely penalties and shoddy execution — including a wide-open touchdown dropped by Illinois tight end Tip Reiman.
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Illinois’ offense operated at its most efficient when pushing the ball and moving up-tempo in between the 20s. The aggressive play calling paid off, but it just wasn’t called enough throughout the game. DeVito threw for only 201 yards on 18-32 passing.
Illinois’ defense struggled at times giving up chunk plays to the most potent offense they played all season. Untimely penalties aided the high-powered Purdue offense in extending several drives. The secondary had to shoulder a lot of the responsibility with their front creating virtually no pressure on Purdue’s senior quarterback Aidan O’Connell. As good as they are they can’t cover receivers all day.
The lack of depth the Illini have is the difference in locking up the Big Ten West and now needing help from the Purdue team that just beat them. To keep things in perspective Brett Bielema still doesn’t have “his guys” in key positions. Another offseason of development should pay dividends next season. This year has been far ahead of schedule.
ILLINOIS FOOTBALL – 5 TAKEAWAYS
Good Things Happen When You Feed Chase Brown
Execution is the difference between six and three points when in the red zone. The most glaring weakness, outside of the punt unit, and the reason why Illinois wasn’t undefeated going into today has been the red zone offense. Today it was the lackluster offense between the 20s that cost Illinois the game. Go figure.
Offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr stuck with the basics inside the 20 handing off three times to Chase Brown who eventually punched it in from the two-yard line. For all the struggle the Illini had last week in goal-to-go situations it was a relief to get on the board quickly, especially in that fashion.
After not gaining a first down on the ensuing three drives Illinois found a groove and again Chase Brown punches in a touchdown from eight yards out to cap off a 10-play 75-yard drive in the second quarter. At the end of the third quarter, DeVito threw a nice six-yard touch pass in the corner of the endzone on third down to Brian Hightower. Lunney pulled all the right strings after receiving a likely unfair amount of criticism after last week’s 1 of 4 red zone scoring performance. Though, Purdue had his number for the rest of the game.
Illinois Secondary Punished For Being Most Physical Unit in College Football
In the first quarter alone the trio accounted for four pass breakups, including a dropped interception by Jartavius Martin. For all of their greatness in playing the ball, they add just as much in the run game. The DBs were flying up the field to make tackles at the point of reception. So, if nothing else, these guys are certainly the most physical unit in all of college football. Devon Witherspoon and Sydney Brown were all over the Purdue receivers, making them work for every catch.
Now, on the flip side of the good that comes from this is the negative effects it can have on the team when officiating crews seem to not know what to do with it.
At what point do we make pass interference a challengeable call? Illinois was penalized five times for pass interference, they had been flagged four times for pass interference all season before today.
The two obvious calls: Witherspoon intercepted a ball in which the receiver was pushing him down, next play was a touchdown. Sydney Brown deflected a pass down in the endzone without laying a hand on the receiver and was flagged three plays later, touchdown.
There needs to be real-time accountability for the officiating crews whether that is by replay officials stepping in automatically or giving coaches the ability to challenge the call. If a touchdown or spot of the ball can be challenged then there is no reason a play that can change the outcome of a drive can’t be as well.
Devin Mockobee Will Soon Be The Top Back In The Big Ten
The true freshman running back broke off multiple runs for 10+ yards including a 28-yard gain that set up his touchdown run just two plays later. The freshman ran for 76 yards on just 13 carries in the first half nearly surpassing what the Illini give up per game. His game is very reminiscent of Chase Brown. The freshman finished the afternoon with 108 yards – the first 100-yard rusher since Minnesota’s Mo Ibrahim.
Averaging nearly six yards per carry in the first half was no small feat against the fourth-best rushing defense that only allowed 2.86 YPC going into Saturday’s game. He took the first half over and capitalized on Illinois’ mistakes. Against a team that does not miss tackles Mockobee seemingly made the first Illinois defender miss each time he had the ball in his hands. Whether on the ground or catching the ball out of the backfield Mockobee is a problem and as he gets more games under his belt his repertoire of tools expands exponentially.
Look for him in a couple of years’ time on mock draft lists.
Second Week in a Row Illinois’ Defensive and Offensive Front Has Been “Neutralized”
Whether by opposing teams’ gameplans or by the result of a higher level of competition the Illini’s “Law Firm” has provided almost no issue to opposing quarterbacks. It took until almost halftime to officially record a quarterback hit. Illinois’ defense is a different kind of elite when the front three can take care of business on later downs. The lack of production led the Illini to give up 379 yards of offense, the most all season.
The offensive line has been unable to open up anything for Chase Brown the past couple of games. First struggling against the likes of a Michigan state defense that was depleted due to suspensions and injuries and a Purdue defense that gave up almost 400 yards of offense to a bad Iowa offense. Once Illinois was forced to be one-dimensional late in the game Purdue’s pass rush overwhelmed Illinois’ big men.
In order for Illinois to truly be elite, the defensive front will have to get back to its disruptive ways. A team like Michigan or Ohio State will find cracks in other areas of the defense if they can’t put the quarterback on his back. And on the flip side, the offensive line needs to get back to driving defenders off the ball. This week breaks Chase Brown’s streak of 100-yard games after he only rushed for 98 yards against Purdue.
Illinois Special Teams Continue to Have Negative Impact
Freshman punter Hugh Robertson has had a year to forget. Two shanked punts giving Purdue a short field resulted in a touchdown run by running back Devin Mockobee and a touchdown pass by Aidan O’Connell. In both Illinois losses this year Robertson had multiple punts of 30 yards or less that resulted in touchdowns on the ensuing drive.
It’s not an easy task punting into a steady 15+ mph wind in 35-degree weather, but other punters have managed to figure it out. For a team that doesn’t turn the ball over a lot, the defense gets put into a lot of bad spots because of the punt team’s struggles.
Illinois travels to the Big House next week Nov. 19 to take on #3 Michigan. In a season in which they beat Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota Illinois no longer controls their own destiny in pursuit of the Big Ten West title.
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