Purdue 34, Illinois 31 OT
CHAMPAIGN -- A chance for Lovie Smith's first Big Ten win against Illinois' most beatable opponent left on the schedule was stripped away in overtime on Saturday, as Purdue (3-2, 1-1) won 34-31 in a wild one at Memorial Stadium.
Illini quarterback Chayce Crouch -- who performed well on the day in relief of the injured Wes Lunt -- was stripped on a run on the third play from scrimmage in overtime. Moments prior to that, Illinois (1-4, 0-2) had a chance to lock in a victory with a 41-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin as time expired.
But McLaughlin's kick clanged off the right upright. Purdue did not miss their chance in overtime after the Illini turnover, as J.D. Dellinger sent orange and blue fans home with a 28-yard kick to win.
The winning odds teetered throughout this game, especially in the late moments.
Purdue had the ball at midfield with less than a minute to go after a targeting call on Carroll Phillips gave Purdue a first down with the game tied at 31. The next play, Illini linebacker Hardy Nickerson intercepted quarterback David Blough with 37 seconds left. But ultimately, Illinois could not take advantage.
Earlier in the game, the Illini defense struggled to make plays. Purdue, who scored seven points and ran for 10 total yards at Maryland last week, posted 459 total yards and 228 on the ground. That included 127 rushing yards by Purdue freshman running back Brian Lankford-Johnson.
The Illinois defense gave up three consecutive touchdowns in the first half, and they could not get off the field on third down. Purdue was 9-of-16 (56 percent) on third down on the day compared to Illinois, who went 3-of-11 (27 percent).
It wasn't all bad for the Illini offense, though. The Orange and Blue racked up 499 total yards. Crouch -- who had two pass attempts and one carry on the season -- filled in fearlessly and effectively. He led the Illini with 137 yards on the ground on 17 attempts, including two scores. Crouch was also 10-of-14 for 142 yards through the air.
Junior wide receiver Malik Turner racked up 129 yards on nine receptions, including a one-handed grab for 38 yards off a tip. Two plays later, Crouch ran it in for a touchdown to take the lead.
But in the end, there were too many mistakes and missed opportunities in all three areas leading to a deflating loss.
What it means
The excitement that buzzed through the air less than a month ago in front of a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium has swept away. Illinois gave fans some hope by giving No. 15 Nebraska all they could handle for three quarters. But against one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, the Illini were reminded that they are still that as well -- even with a big-name coaching staff. Josh Whitman, a West Lafayette native, will have a tough time swallowing this one. This is another sobering example of how much work is to be done with this program until it 'will win' again.
What went right
Chayce Crouch played well, and he used his wheels. With Lunt out, the Illini leaned heavily on the run and that was just fine against a defense that surrendered 400 yards on the ground against Maryland the previous week. Crouch provided an added dynamic to Illinois' attack -- running for a game-high 137 yards. He also stood in the pocket and delivered some good throws in big moments. The game-deciding fumble will leave a sour taste, but Crouch made an interesting situation even more interesting as it pertains to a quarterback controversy. Even more so with Lunt's status.
Malik Turner made some tough grabs, including a one-handed snatch that you'll see on SportsCenter on Saturday night. Crouch underthrew a fade route and Turner came down with it while falling back.
The Illini defense had to get a turnover late in regulation to give their team a chance to win. They did that with Nickerson's pick, and it was initiated by Gimel President's tip. Illinois struggled to get in the quarterback's face all day, but they got there at the right time. The Illini just couldn't seal it on the other side of the field.
What went wrong
Win the game. The Illini had a chance to get it done. And they didn't. Period.
The Illini defense in the first half was really bad. No pressure. No pass breakups. Bad open-field pursuit and tackling. It was all bad.
Lovie Smith's defense had a heck of a time stopping the run, especially on the outside. Purdue continued to run outside zone and Illinois couldn't stop it. They got gashed up the middle a few times as well.
Illini defensive line went without a sack for second straight week. They had 13 in the first three games combined.
Penalties were also a problem. The Illini had 12 of them for 125 yards.
The Illini head on the road to face Rutgers (2-3, 0-2). The Knights are 4-14 against Big Ten opponents since joining the conference, and they haven't won a home conference game since Nov. 2014 against Indiana. Illinois is 2-7 in Big Ten road games over the last three seasons. The Illini are 1-1 all-time against Rutgers, and they lost 33-0 in the last meeting back in 2006 in Piscataway, N.J.