Three big mistakes unravels upset hopes

Arkansas State had a chance Saturday to do something they haven't done in a while, play solid defense against a favored Illinois team here Saturday in Big Ten Country. When the Red Wolves defense shut down heralded Illinois running back Jason Ford in his own end zone for an ASU safety. Three big mistakes caused the Red Wolves upset hopes to unravel.

Arkansas State had a chance Saturday to do something they haven't done in a while, play solid defense against a favored Illinois team here Saturday in Big Ten Country.

When the Red Wolves defense shut down heralded Illinois running back Jason Ford in his own end zone for an ASU safety.

This was the first safety for the Red Wolves since 2008, the year that Arkansas State defeated a high ranked opponent on their home field when ASU defeated A&M 18-14 in the 2008 season opener.

Flashes of that game came into the minds of some of the Red Wolf faithful that were in the Red Wolf Press Box Saturday in Illinois. Especially when a defensive minded ASU team took an 8-7 lead over Illinois after two successful field goals after securing the safety.

"We started out playing well," Freeze said after his team was defeated 33-15 by the Fighting Illini to ruin Freeze's debut as the ASU new head coach. "We gave up some points before halftime, that hurt us."

That hurt us was a slight understatement.

There were three back to back things that helped unravel Arkansas State's hopes of an opening day upset of Illinois.

After going up 8-7 in the second quarter with 2:50 second to play, all the Red Wolves would have to do is stop the home standing Illinois team and go into the lockeroom with the lead. Easier said than done.

The Red Wolf secondary was burnt on a couple of occasions during the game, one before the half and the other coming on the opening drive afterwards.

Illinois quarterback Nathan Steelhaasse started on his own 20 yard line with a critical scoring drive for the home team. He completed a 14 yarder and a 16 yarder back to back to A.J. Jenkins setting up the Illini at the 50 yard line and the clock ticking down. After a five run by Jason Ford and and incomplete pass by Steelhaasse, the quarterback connected with a wide open D Millines on a 45 yard scoring strike.

That quickly gave the home team a 14-8 over the visiting Red Wolves. ASU faithful still had hope that they could get the momentum back. Ryan Aplin took over for Arkansas State with the Red Wolves two minute offense, a tipped passed was intercepted and gave the home team another chance to add points to the score board.

Even trailing 17-8 at the half, Hugh Freeze attempted to fire up his troops to come back and stop Illinois on it's next drive.

Two plays later Steelhaassee found a wide open A.J. Jenkins for a 72 scoring bomb that basically took the Red Wolves out of the game, trailing 23-8.

Although Freeze's troops never gave up, the game wasn't in question after those three big mistakes, two before the half and the other shortly afterwards.

"That was really where the game changed," Freeze admitted. "To give up two big plays that led to their scores before the half wasn't what we needed. I thought we could come back after the half, I knew we had to stop them on their next possession but we weren't able to do that. We have to get those things fixed."

Freeze and his Red Wolves will return for it's season opener against rival Memphis this coming Saturday in Jonesboro.

AStateNation made the trip to Champaign, Illinois and will continue to deliver you stories and features from the trip.