View from the West Balcony

While I was watching the game in the West Balcony on Saturday afternoon, one thing became extremely apparent to me, you could not blame the defense on Saturday afternoon. This loss lied solely on the shoulders of the Illini offense that just could not make the key play when it was needed. <br><br> Was it play calling, or was it execution, or was it a combination of both? Why couldn't the Illini punch the ball into the endzone when they needed that big touchdown?

I walked into Saturday's game expecting a blowout defeat for the Fighting Illini at the hands of Purdue, and fortunately I did not get it. The players on the field did everything they needed to do to win the game, but they fell eight points short to extend Illinois' conference losing streak to nine straight games. The 38-30 Purdue victory in Memorial Stadium was everything I was not expecting it to be. Illinois' defense made key stops, and the Illini offense could not punch the ball into the end zone when they needed key plays.

After the first play from scrimmage when Ade Adeyamo fumbled a hand off from Jon Beutjer and broke his fibula, I think me along with every other Illini fan in the stands just thought "Not this [expletive censored] again." For those paying attention, something was different on Saturday, and it was noticeable in Purdue's next two plays from scrimmage. Sure, the Boilermakers did punch it in on the third play of the drive with what would be a very common experience on Saturday afternoon, a touchdown pass from Kyle Orton to Taylor Stubblefield. But the difference was simple; Illinois stopped the Purdue rushing attack from scoring on two consecutive plays, holding them to three yards, and forcing them to pass for that touchdown on third down.

The Illini's first drive from scrimmage was indicative of why Illinois would end up losing this game, offensive play calling. The Illini established from play two that they could run the football and run it well against the Boiler defense. Just looking at the first true drive of the game for the Illini it was obvious to any one in the stands that the running game is how Illinois would manufacture yards and points.

Down Yard Line Play Type Performer Yardage
Kickoff Return Pierre Thomas +21
1st and 10 ILL 26 Rush EB Halsey +15
1st and 10 ILL 41 Penalty Purdue +5
1st and 5 ILL 46 Rush EB Halsey +3
2nd and 2 50 Rush EB Halsey +4
1st and 10 PU 46 Pass Kendrick Jones +5
2nd and 5 PU 41 Rush EB Halsey +6
1st and 10 PU 35 Rush EB Halsey +11
1st and 10 PU 24 Rush EB Halsey +4
2nd and 6 PU 20 Rush Pierre Thomas +2
3rd and 4 PU 18 Rush Jason Davis +9
1st and 9 PU 9 Rush EB Halsey +2
2nd and 7 PU 7 Pass Incomplete -
3rd and 7 PU 7 Pass Incomplete -
4th and 7 PU 7 Field Goal Jason Reda Purdue 7 - Illinois 3

This is just the first drive of the game, and it blatantly shows the pattern that would hamper Illinois on every key drive of the game. Illinois would run the ball right at the Purdue defense, and knock them over, but when the Illini got away from the running game, the offense would sputter to a halt quicker than a Yugo.

Now, I want to fast forward to the fourth quarter. Heading into the fourth quarter, the score was 31-23 Purdue. The Illini defense had allowed 31 points to a potent Purdue offense, but they have played well enough to keep the Illini in the game, all the Illini needed was the offense to punch the ball into the end zone.

On the first drive of the fourth quarter, the Boilermakers took the ball and marched down the field putting seven more points on the board. I admit to thinking that the Illini were now officially out of this game, and this would be the time that Purdue would close out the game. I was waiting for that all game, but something happened again. The Illini fought back and got themselves right back into the game thanks to the most maligned part of this team, the defense.

The next drive for the Illini offense after Purdue's touchdown that made the score 38-23 in the fourth quarter did little to ease my pain. After a Pierre Thomas 19 yard run and two complete passes (one to Bucky Babcock on a battled ball), the Illini offense sputtered out and had to punt. Steve Weatherford lined up to punt the ball from the Purdue 40 yard line, and what came next was just a terrible punt that only went ten yards, and out of bounds at the Purdue 30 yard line.

"Here it comes," I thought to myself.

Brandon Jones rushed up the left side of the Illini defense for 25 yards.

"Yep, here it is," I thought again.

But wait, here it wasn't. The Illini defense sucked it up, stopped Jones for three yards on a run up the middle, and then after two incomplete passes from Kyle Orton, the Illini forced a punt. The next drive for Illinois yielded a touchdown effectively mixing the run and the pass, making the score 38-30.

The Illini were only down one touchdown and a two-point conversion. All the defense needed to do was hold Purdue and force them to punt. That couldn't be done could it?

The Purdue drive was at third and eight from the Purdue 45 yard line, and this play would decide whether or not Illinois would have a chance to let their offense tie the game for them. The Illini decide not to take their final timeout to stop the clock. Purdue lines up in a three wide receiver set and Orton is back in the shot gun, the Boilers are going to attempt a pass to get the first down and seal a victory. Illini senior linebacker Matt Sinclair is looking at the field and he does not know where he is supposed to be, and it forces the Illini to call a timeout seconds before Purdue's Kyle Orton signals for a timeout himself.

Why, why does a senior defensive player, and a team leader not know where he is supposed to be on the field in a key play from scrimmage? Why were the younger players trying to signal to Matt what his defensive assignment was supposed to be? Why?

After the timeout, the Boilers would rush up the middle on third down for four yards, and then punt to Illinois, leaving the Illini offense with 86 yards to go and 45 seconds with which to do it in. On the first play, Jon Beutjer find Kendrick Jones for an 11 yard pass up the left sideline. Kendrick spins thinking he was about to get hit, before getting out of bounds to stop the clock. The next play seals the Illini's fate as Jon Beutjer fumbles the ball after getting sacked at the Illini one yard line.

The Boilers would recover the fumble, and run one more play, a run up the middle for no gain to end the game. Why Purdue ran a play up the middle to end the game, I don't know, but I do know that was a terrible play call. It gave Illinois the only chance to get a fumble from the Boilers and maybe get the ball back. If Tiller just had Orton take a knee, there would not have been a chance for this.

There is one person I put Saturday's loss on: Ron Turner. He is the person who makes all the offensive play calls, and his calls caused the Illini offense to sputter out in key points. Yes, his offense did score thirty points, but his desire to continue passing the ball when it was not effective hurt his team.

I highlighted the second drive of the game in the table, but I will drive the point home more now.

Drive 3:
This drive resulted in an Illini touchdown pass from Beutjer to Anthony McClellan on a roll out. The play that set up the Illini score was a 72 yard kick off return from Pierre Thomas that had the Illini starting out the drive at the Purdue 28. Turner called a good safe drive with two passes to the flat (Jason Davis) and then two runs to EB Halsey. The touchdown pass was on the fifth play of the drive, and personally this pass epitomized Jon Beutjer's career at Illinois. He could have run the ball in himself untouched, which would have been the safe play, but instead he threw the pass the McClellan, the dangerous play. Yes, the result was the same, but Beutjer's decision making abilities were highlighted on that play as he chose the dangerous read over the easy, safe read.

Purdue 10 - Illinois 10

Drive 4:
Three passes, one complete to Melvin Bryant for six yards on third and ten. Illinois is forced to punt.

Purdue 17 - Illinois 10

Drive 5:
This drive resulted in a 48 yard field goal from Steve Weatherford. The drive started off with three straight Pierre Thomas runs for a first down. On first down, the Illini threw an underneath pass to Franklin Payne, then on the next play Pierre Thomas rushed for 12 yards up the right side of the Illinois line. The next play was an incomplete pass on the resulting first down, and then two straight runs for an Illini first down. Another underneath pass was followed by an Illini holding penalty, another underneath pass to Franklin Payne, and a fifteen yard roughing the passer penalty on Purdue. Illinois now has the ball on the Purdue 32 yard line. The first down play call is an incomplete pass, then a one yard run up the middle, and another incomplete pass leading to the field goal.

Purdue 17 - Illinois 13

Drive 6:
Two long runs, one from Jason Davis and one from EB Halsey set up the pass to Jason Davis in the flat for a touchdown. A three play drive that resulted in 57 yards and an Illini touchdown. The two key plays the runs by Davis and Halsey.

Purdue 24 - Illinois 20

Drive 7 (Start of the second half):
Three runs, and then an incomplete pass leading to a punt.

Purdue 24 - Illinois 20

Drive 8:
The highlight of this drive was Jon Beutjer finding Kendrick Jones deep along the left sideline for a 41 yard gain, taking the Illini down to the Purdue 5 yard line. EB Halsey ran up the guy for a one yard loss, and then after two incomplete passes, Illinois kicked a field goal.

Purdue 31 - Illinois 23

Drive 9:
The Illini were backed up to their own two yard line thanks to a great punt by Purdue's Dave Brytus. The Illini got the ball out to their own 24 yard line before thanks to two passes to Lonnie Hurst and EB Halsey. Steve Weatherford had a beautiful punt that pushed Purdue back to their own 16 yard line to start their next drive.

Purdue 31 - Illinois 23

Drive 10 (start of fourth quarter):
This drive started out with a nineteen yard run from Pierre Thomas, and was followed up by two straight complete passes: one to Kendrick Jones and then one to Bucky Babcock who caught the pass after it was deflected at the line of scrimmage. The next two plays were incomplete passes, and then Steve Weatherford had the exact opposite punt he had on the last drive, as this time the ball went a total of ten yards.

Purdue 38 - Illinois 23

Drive 11:
This drive is best described as the Jason Davis drive. He did everything for the Illini on this drive. He rushed and he caught passes, including a great 26 yard touchdown pass that saw him break tackle after tackle on his way into the end zone with a pass from the flat. The drive had a great mix of passes and rushes.

Purdue 38 - Illinois 30

Drive 12:
This was the final drive of the game, and it resulted in a Jon Beutjer fumble at the Illinois one yard line.

The reason I went through all of this was I wanted to show how the Illini offense sputtered. They slowed down to a halt when the ball was taken out of the hands of EB Halsey, Pierre Thomas, or Jason Davis and was put in the hands of Jon Beutjer and the passing game. Purdue could not stop the run, but Illinois stubbornly always wanted to pass the ball against the Boiler defense, even when rushes were averaging 5.1 yards per carry (passes only averaged 5.7 yards per attempt).

This stubbornness lies squarely on the shoulders of the person calling the plays, and as any follower of Illinois knows, the person is Ron Turner. His stubbornness and need to throw the ball when the Illini running game was going so well stalled many an Illini drive and I think cost his team the game.

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