Illinois Can't Fill the Void in Loss to Purdue

<p>If Illinois fans weren't playing close attention to Saturday's game against Purdue, they might have thought they had fallen into a time warp to 1996. In a flashback to Lou Tepper era futility, the Fightless Illini lost to Purdue 43-10 in front of a homecoming crowd in West Lafayette, Indiana.

The Boilermakers (4-1 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) controlled the game from the opening kick and had the Illini (1-5 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) on their heels all game. Purdue scored 20 points in the first quarter and the rout was just beginning.

Purdue's offensive line cleared the way for running back Jerod Void to rush for four touchdowns on carries of 2, 4, 1 and 5 yards. Void slashed through the Illinois defense for a career high 119 yards and helped Head Coach Joe Tiller become only the second coach in Purdue history to win 50 games at the school.

Void was seldom touched by the Illinois defensive line, which was manhandled by the big uglies on the Purdue offensive line. Void wasn't the only Boilermaker to benefit from the blocking of the offensive line. Jerome Brooks (82 yards), Brandon Jones (58 yards) and QB Kyle Orton (49 yards) all out gained the Illini on the ground by themselves.

Orton also completed 13 of 19 passes for 210 yards, with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Orton rarely hit the turf of Ross-Ade Stadium since the Illinois pass rush failed to get off the bus. When Orton's receivers were tightly covered by the Illini secondary, the quarterback tucked the ball away and picked up numerous first downs. The Boilermakers had a total of 528 overall yards compared to 180 yards for the Illini and had 32 first downs to Illinois' 10.

The Illinois offense, which had been able to put together some yardage while playing from behind in the past few weeks, had no such luck on Saturday. Quarterback Jon Beutjer completed 12 of 23 passes for 108 yards, with no touchdowns and 1 interception. Near the end of the fourth quarter, Beutjer gave way to reserve Chris Pazan, who completed 5 of 5 passes for 45 yards. With the Illini at 1-5 and nearly all hopes for a bowl berth gone, conventional wisdom says that Pazan would begin to take more snaps to get ready for next season. But, conventional wisdom and this Illini club don't see eye to eye.

Illinois Head Coach Ron Turner has consistently said that the Illini need to establish the run and that will in turn open up the passing game. Well, that isn't working and it is time to resort to Plan B, whatever that entails. Illinois gained a pathetic 37 yards rushing, with 19 of those yards coming on an end around to wide receiver Kelvin Hayden. Three yards and a cloud of dust, this isn't.

If there was one bright spot for Illinois in this game, and there really wasn't, it would be Illinois' special teams play. Ibrahim Halsey, who only gained 7 yards on 5 carries on offense, returned a Purdue punt 41 yards for the only Illini touchdown. Also, the Illini blocked 1 extra point and 1 field goal attempt. The problems of their kicking team are the only thing that kept the Boilermakers from playing an error free game on both sides of the ball.

Defensive back Christian Morton was maybe the only individual who had a good day for the Illini. The much maligned Morton played tighter defense than ever before and was the man responsible for blocking a Purdue field goal attempt. While it looks like the rest of the defensive unit will phone in their performances for the remaining games, Morton appears to be stepping up his performance.

Next week's game against Michigan State will be a crucial one for Coach Turner if he hopes to retain his post as the boss at Illinois. After a thoroughly embarrassing loss like Saturday's, Turner will have a lot of work to do to keep his players from losing faith in the coaching staff. Attendance will surely decline and Memorial Stadium will not provide much of a home field advantage against QB Jeff Smoker and the surging Spartans.


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