Tale of the Tape: Rutgers @ Illinois

IlliniBoard.com columnist Jeff Murdock sat down with his TiVo remote in hand, and decided to watch the Rutgers @ Illinois game again on Monday afternoon to get a better understanding of why the Fighting Illini were able to come back from the twenty point deficit and defeat the Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon. The eight-second rewind, and thirty-second forward buttons were used, as was a play by play sheet to come out with these observations of Saturday's game.

Before the game, ESPN's sideline reporter interviewed Ron Zook and he told her that while his coaches felt that a win was important, it is not what they would be grading, they were going to be grading the effort of his Fighting Illini team. Heading into the contest, this is exactly what Illinois fans wanted to hear and see from the Fighting Illini football team, they want a coach that preaches effort, and a team that puts effort out for sixty minutes of football, something that was oftentimes lacking last season. The first game of the Ron Zook era was not going to be graded by Zook and fans by whether or not the Illini won or lost, but by the effort of the Fighting Illini football team.

To look at how Illinois and Rutgers played, I am going to break down each drive in the chronological order in which they happen.

Rutgers Drive 1
10 plays
63 yards
Time of Possession: 04:46

This first drive may have been perfect for Rutgers had Ray Rice not slipped and caused a four yard loss on second and seven, and then after a third down pass was just short of the first down, Jeremy Ito did was would soon become his trademark, missed a field goal.

The drive for the Scarlet Knights started out with a precision tearing apart of the Illini defense by quarterback Ryan Hart has he threw four completed passes in the first five plays, three of them for first downs. Rutgers moved the ball from their own 20 yard line to the Illinois 26 yard line in just six plays, and looked ready to cross the goal line. But on a second and seven from the Illinois 23 yard line, true freshman Ray Rice slipped on the turf for a loss of four yards, and then Ryan Hart found Willie Foster over the middle, but he was just under a yard short of the first down on the third and eleven play.

From the center of the field, Rutgers lined up for a field goal from the Illinois 17 yard line. Jeremy Ito pushed the kick to the right, and it was now Illinois' ball from their own twenty yard line.

Illinois Drive 1
3 plays
-9 yards
Time of Possession: 01:27

This possession will not be one that goes on the highlight tapes of the Illini offensive linemen, though I am sure it will be poured over in the film room as Ed Warriner uses these three plays as a What Not to Do film footage time. The first play saw Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic have no time to do anything as both JJ Simmons and James Ryan were beaten by the Rutgers defensive lineman for the sack. The second play saw EB Halsey run for three yards on a pitch left that had a holding penalty on Frank Lenti, Jr. declined. The final play of this series for the Illini was no better than the first two as Brasic was flushed out of the pocket as the defender got past the left tackle causing him to run into the rest of the collapsed line and take the sack.

The Illini would punt the ball away from their own 11 yard line. Even with a 43 yard punt, Rutgers would still have the ball on the Illini's side of the field.

Rutgers Drive 2
6 plays
43 yards
Time of Possession: 01:23

It was on this drive that Rutgers quarterback Ryan Hart finally threw an incomplete pass. On the first two plays of the drive, Hart found Tres Moses wide open between Charles Bailey and Morris Virgil for a 27 yard gain. The next play from scrimmage saw Hart finding Brian Leonard for a 17 yard gain after he avoided a tackle from Illini linebacker J. Leman. Rutgers now had first and goal from the Illinois 4 yard line.

On the first play of this series, Rutgers went with a Power I formation to try and overpower the Illini defense with their running game as they loaded the line and had zero wide receivers. Ray Rice lost a yard on first down, and the Rutgers abandoned the power game and tried to score with the passing game, the same way they had marched up the field in the last two drives against Illinois. On the next two plays, Hart looked for his star tight end, Clark Harris. On second down, Hart just threw the ball away over Harris' head as Illinois' Sharriff Abdullah had great coverage on the tight end. On third down, Rutgers tried to use Clark's height to their advantage by running a corner route in the end zone, but the ball was over thrown.

It was now fourth down, and Jeremy Ito was coming out again to kick a field goal, this time from the left hash mark, and this time he put it through the uprights.

Rutgers 3 - Illinois 0

Illinois Drive 2
5 plays
15 yards
Time of Possession: 01:47

This drive started out much the same as the last drive ended with Tim Brasic getting rushed on first down. Then to ease his quarterback's nerves, Mike Locksley called a swing pass to Pierre Thomas which resulted in Brasic's first completed pass of his career, and a positive play for the Illini. On the next play, EB Halsey rushed up the middle to give Illinois its first first down of the season.

Two plays later, Brasic looked for DaJuan Warren, but he air mailed the pass over his head and it was intercepted by Ron Gurault and returned for 41 yards to the Illinois 34 yard line.

Illinois Turnover

Rutgers Drive 3
4 plays
8 yards
Time of Possession: 01:40

Rutgers has all the momentum in the football game, and just intercepted Tim Brasic to give them great field position, but they were unable to take advantage of it as they just gained eight yards, and once again Jeremy Ito missed a field goal, making him one-for-three at this point in the game.

Illinois Drive 3
11 plays
74 yards
Time of Possession: 03:17

This drive was the first time that the Illini offense clicked all game, and it was because of the play calling from the sidelines. Mike Locksley gave Tim Brasic a lot of plays that he was comfortable running, especially the option. On the first play of the drive, Brasic ran for six yards on an option keeper. On the next play, he ran for eight yards on another option keeper. The Illini finally seemed to be in a groove offensively.

After running the option twice, Brasic was able to find DaJuan Warren on a swing pass right before he was hit that led to an eight yard Illinois gain. Then, the Illini went back to the option again after two plays as Brasic kept is on a second and ten and ran for 16 yards to the Rutgers 16 yard line. The next play saw Illinois full back Jason Davis rush for seven yards off the left end, and EB Halsey rush for four yards up the middle to give the Illini a first and goal from the Rutgers 5 yard line.

The first snap could have been ominous for the Illini as Tim Brasic fumbled the snap when it looked like Matt Maddox was attempting to get an offsides call against the Rutgers defense by snapping the ball after a player jumped, but the flag never came out. On the next play, Brasic found Jody Ellis on a screen pass that he took into the end zone for six.

Rutgers 3 - Illinois 7

Rutgers Drive 4
4 plays
80 yards
Time of Possession: 01:31

The fourth drive for Rutgers was much like the previous three drives as Ryan Hart continued to dismantle the Illini defense through the air. The scoring play was a 55-yard touchdown pass down the sideline as Illini corner back Alan Ball never turned around to see the ball until it was too late and Marcus Daniels had already adjusted to the ball that was thrown short to catch it. Ball slipped, and Daniels had an easy run into the endzone.

Rutgers 10 - Illinois 7

Illinois Drive 4
3 plays
5 yards
Time of Possession: 01:48

Yet another unimpressive drive for the Illini offense even with the option being used twice. The Illini got a much needed 58 yard punt from Steve Weatherford to pin Rutgers back to their own 33 for their next possession.

Rutgers Drive 5
8 plays
59 yards
Time of Possession: 03:01

It was more of the same in the first half as Rutgers used precision passing from Hart to receivers that continuously found the holes in the Illini's secondary, mixed in with rushing from Brian Leonard and Ray Rice. Once again, when the Scarlet Knights got into the red zone, their offense sputtered to a stop, and they needed to call on Jeremy Ito to put points on the board for them. This time, he was successful from the left hash mark (he is now two-for-four on field goals).

Rutgers 13 - Illinois 7

Illinois Drive 5
3 plays
14 yards
Time of Possession: 00:51

This drive started out with promise as it appeared Mike Locksley remembered he had Pierre Thomas on the team and he rushed for fourteen yards in the first two plays. Unfortunately, after that the next play was an interception from Tim Brasic as he pump faked to DaJuan Warren, and then threw the ball into coverage looking for Jody Ellis and the pass was intercepted by Corey Barnes at the fifty yard line.

Illinois Turnover

Rutgers Drive 6
3 plays
7 yards
Time of Possession: 02:27

After the interception by Brasic, the Illini defense stepped up and held the Rutgers offense to their first drive that did not result in a scoring opportunity. Rutgers punted the ball away to Illinois.

Illinois Drive 6
3 plays
2 yards
Time of Possession: 02:27

Thanks to a great punt from Billy Anderson, Illinois started this series on their own three yard line. Three Pierre Thomas runs later, and it was Steve Weatherford's job to punt the ball as far as he could, and he got it out to the Illinois 45 yard line.

Rutgers Drive 7
3 plays
-4 yards
Time of Possession: 01:21

For the second straight time, the Illini defense held Rutgers to a three and out. The third down play saw great coverage from James Cooper on Clark Harris, forcing Rutgers to punt the ball away to the Illini.

Illinois Drive 7
3 plays
6 yards
Time of Possession: 00:59

For the third time this half, Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic would turn the ball over on a drive, but this time it was on the Illinois nine yard line. Brasic fumbled the ball on a third down run, but it was initially called down by contact. The Illini could not snap the ball fast enough on the punt, so instant replay overturned the incorrect call on the field, and it was now Rutgers ball on the Illinois nineteen-yard line.

Illinois Turnover

Rutgers Drive 8
1 play
19 yards
Time of Possession: 00:06

On a playaction pass, Ryan Hart was pressured by Charles Myles, but as he was scrambling he found Brian Leonard leading J Leman, who then went into the end zone to extend the Rutgers lead.

Rutgers 20 - Illinois 7

Illinois Drive 8
2 plays
-1 yards
Time of Possession: 01:09

Illinois ran out the clock to end the half with two runs from EB Halsey up the middle.

At halftime, Illinois coach Ron Zook was once again interviewed by the ESPN Sideline reporter. His comments dealt with dealing with adversity and whether or not his Fighting Illini would be able to handle adversity, something he had been preaching since last December when he first took the Illinois job.


Illinois Drive 9
8 plays
40 yards
Time of Possession: 03:25

This drive saw Illinois start on their own twenty yard line, and quickly move the ball into Rutgers territory thanks to a 25 yard scramble from Tim Brasic. On that scramble, Brasic tucked the ball in and ran with it at the first sign of adversity, probably something that he was told to do at halftime due to Rutgers getting to him with too much ease in the first half. Unfortunately, the drive stalled at the Rutgers 45 yard line when Brasic missed Melvin Bryant as he was throwing on the run, and then the option shovel pass to Jason Davis only gained 5 yards, forcing the Illini to punt.

Rutgers Drive 9
2 plays
89 yards
Time of Possession: 00:46

No one would have blamed Illinois if they just mailed it in after this drive, like most of the fans in Memorial Stadium did. Seeing Brian Leonard hurdle Charles Bailey, and then continue on for an 83 yard touchdown run, and a twenty-point Rutgers lead had every one besides Ron Zook not believing in an Illinois football win on Saturday afternoon.

Rutgers 27 - Illinois 7

Illinois Drive 10
9 plays
69 yards
Time of Possession: 03:46

After watching Brian Leonard hurdle their teammate, the Illini offense needed to answer with some points, or this game was over, and that is exactly what they did. Using two players who were pretty much ignored in the first half, Pierre Thomas and Kendrick Jones, Illinois moved down the field to the Rutgers 11 yard line.

On third and seven, Tim Brasic was scrambling outside of the pocket, and he found Melvin Bryant in the back of the end zone, but unfortunately Bryant pushed off the defender before catching the pass in the end zone and was called for offensive pass interference. Illinois needed to settle for a field goal from Jason Reda.

Rutgers 27 - Illinois 10

Rutgers Drive 10
8 plays
29 yards
Time of Possession: 03:19

Let's think about something here. You are up seventeen points with twenty-two minutes left in the game against a team that has not really been moving the ball that well on offense. What would you do? The logical choice would be to run the ball more with your fullback that Illinois has not been able to stop. I guess the Rutgers offensive coordinator, Craig Ver Steeg, was channeling former Rutgers coach Terry Shea and decided to continue to throw the ball, and not use Leonard to run out the clock.

This drive saw Rutgers throw five passes in eight plays, and only one rush to Leonard. Rutgers would end up punting the ball back to Illinois for only the third time all game.

Illinois Drive 11
3 plays
- 1 yards
Time of Possession: 02:11

It was not obvious that the Illinois comeback was coming from this drive. On second down, Brasic faked the handoff to Halsey and he was immediately sacked, he had no chance to get away from the Rutgers rush. After a quick three and out, Weatherford punted the ball back to Rutgers.

Rutgers Drive 11
6 plays
29 yards
Time of Possession: 01:28

Once again, three passes and two rushes moved the ball for Rutgers into scoring position, but they left that task up to Jeremy Ito. Fortunately for the Illini, Ito missed his third field goal of the day as he pushed a 46-yard field goal from dead center, and Rutgers could not extend their lead.

Illinois Drive 12
10 plays
55 yards
Time of Possession: 03:11

With this drive starting just before the start of the fourth quarter, if Illinois was going to turn this into a football game they needed to come away with some points. The drive started out on a good note with a rush up the middle for eight yards by Pierre Thomas, and then a three-yard screen pass to Jody Ellis that resulted in an Illinois first down.

The next play was a shovel pass to Jason Davis (this game's method of ensuring the talented full back stayed a vital cog in the Illinois offense) that resulted in a five-yard gain. On the ensuing play, Brasic was forced out of the pocket and he rushed for ten yards and another Illinois first down. After another shovel pass to Davis, Brasic found DaJuan Warren wide open in the middle of the field between the Rutgers defenders for an 18-yard gain.

Unfortunately, that is where the Illini drive stalled. The next three plays netted a loss of one yard, and Jason Reda was called on to put the Illini within two touchdowns, and that is what he did when he nailed a 32-yard field goal from the right hash mark.

Time left on clock: 11:54

Rutgers 27 - Illinois 13

Rutgers Drive 12
3 plays
8 yards
Time of Possession: 01:46

With a two touchdown lead and less than twelve minutes on the game clock, Rutgers does what every smart offense would do, throw three passes. The Illini defense holds Rutgers to a three and out, and forces a punt.

Illinois Drive 13
4 plays
54 yards
Time of Possession: 01:28

The Illini have 10:08 to score two touchdowns, so they need a score on this drive. On the first play of the drive from the Illinois 46 yard line, Brasic finds Kendrick Jones wide open on the sidelines as the Rutgers defender bit at a pump fake from Brasic leaving Jones alone for the catch. Then thanks to a pass interference penalty, Illinois had the ball first and goal from the Rutgers seven.

On second and goal, Kendrick Jones was sent in motion from the backfield to the left side of the formation. Tim Brasic was flushed out of the pocket, and the Rutgers defenders did not see Kendrick slip across the field so he was wide open and a perfect target for Brasic right in the end zone. Touchdown Illinois.

Rutgers 27 - Illinois 20

Rutgers Drive 13
12 plays
54 yards
Time of Possession: 04:36

Rutgers now had a football game to deal with as the Illini are just one touchdown away with 8:40 left in the game. It seems like something turned on for Rutgers on this drive for the first time since Brian Leonard hurdled Charles Bailey in the third quarter, or Craig Ver Steeg finally realized he had a weapon that Illinois could not stop in Leonard. On this drive, Leonard carried the ball four times for twenty-four yards. It looked like Rugters was en route to ice the game with a scoring drive, but thanks to a crack back block penalty on Tres Moses, Rutgers went from having the ball on the Illinois 32 to being on the 45.

The next play saw Hart hook up with Moses for a seven yard gain, but Hart missed a wide open Clark Harris through the middle of the Illini defense with what would have been a game winning touchdown pass. By Hart not seeing Harris running wide open down the middle of the defense, Rutgers put the fate of the game on Jeremy Ito. Ito's 42 yard field goal was blocked when it was so low that Illinois' Chris Norwell just needed to reach up to get his hands on the ball and block the kick as it crossed the line of scrimmage.

Illinois Drive 14
9 plays
65 yards
Time of Possession: 02:41

There is 3:54 left on the clock for the Illini to score a game-tying touchdown.

The first play sees Pierre Thomas rush up the middle for 6 yards. The next play sees Tim Brasic scramble for six yards, and an Illini first down. The next play was the one that symbolized to me Tim Brasic's creativity. The Illini were running the option, and there was a defender between Brasic and EB Halsey, so Brasic threw the option pass overhand around the defender allowing Halsey to complete a 15-yard run and another Illinois first down.

The Illini were moving the ball up the field, and Rutgers players were cramping in what seemed like an effort to slow down the offense. If they were faking it, Illini fans were booing them for it. If they were not faking it, Illini fans were booing the Rutgers strength and conditioning coach for not having Rutgers ready on what was not a real hot day in Champaign.

After getting to the Rutgers 27 yard line, it looked like the drive was about to stall. Then on fourth and three from the Rutgers 20-yard line, after looking to the flat Brasic found Jody Ellis over the middle in the seam of the Rutgers zone for the seven yard completion for the Illini first down at the Rutgers 13.

The next play was the highlight of the game for the Illini as Brasic threw a swing pass to EB Halsey who took it to the end zone and finished it with a leap from the four yard line over Rutgers defenders to put the Illini an extra point away from tying the game. Jason Reda nailed the extra point, and Illinois had completed a twenty point comeback.

Rutgers 27 - Illinois 27

Rutgers Drive 14
3 plays
-4 yards
Time of Possession: 00:45

With just 1:13 left on the clock, and the ball on their own twenty the Scarlet Knights needed a good fifty yards to even think of the game winning field goal from Jeremy Ito, but I doubt any one in the stadium thought Ito would be able to put in anything other than a pooch kick at this point. This drive saw Rutgers drop back to pass three times, an incompletion, a six-yard gain, and then a sack as Anthony Thornhill went untouched to the quarterback on a blitz between the left guard and left tackle.

Rutgers was forced to punt the ball back to Illinois from their own 16-yard line.

Illinois Drive 15
6 plays
25 yards
Time of Possession: 00:28

Illinois had 28 seconds left on the clock, and they needed to gain about thirty yards to get within Jason Reda's range as they started the possession on their own forty-yard line. The Illini did not use a run on the five plays leading up to Reda's game winning field goal attempt, as Brasic threw the ball to many different receivers along the sidelines.

After getting a first down on third and ten, the Illini had the ball on the Rutgers 49-yard line with thirteen seconds left on the clock. Illini offensive coordinator made a gusty call to throw a deep pass to true freshman Kyle Hudson. The pass was thrown into double coverage, and it was broken up, leaving the Illini with little time on the clock to get into field goal range. On the next play, Illini lined up with five receivers, and Rutgers blitzed off the corner of the man who was supposed to be guarding EB Halsey. Brasic read the blitz correctly, and hit Halsey over the middle for a 14-yard gain.

There was now three seconds left on the clock, and Illinois had a 52-yard field goal attempt for the win. While the TV commentators, and many in the stands were expecting the strong footed Steve Weatherford to come out for the kick, Ron Zook decided Reda would be the one to attempt the kick. The kick fro mthe left hash looked to miss both just short and to the right.

The game was now going into overtime.

Rutgers Overtime Possession 1
In overtime, Rutgers looked in the direction of Brian Leonard early with an incomplete pass thrown in his direction, but thanks to great coverage from the Illini defense, the pass was incomplete. On the next play, Leonard looked to get a Rutgers first down, but Clark Harris was called for a hold behind the play, forcing Rutgers into a second and thirteen. After a five yard pass to Sean Tucker, Rutgers faced a third and eight. On that play, Illini defensive end Derek Walker reached his hands up and deflected Hart's pass.

Rutgers called on Jeremy Ito once again to hit a field goal. This time he delivered with a 40-yard field goal from the left hash.

Rutgers 30 - Illinois 27

Illinois Overtime Possession 1
After holding Rutgers to a field goal, the Illini offense knew that they needed to score a touchdown to win, or a field goal to keep the game going.

The first play from scrimmage saw Tim Brasic run for eight yards on a quarterback keeper. Then, Jody Ellis was called for a false start, and Illinois had a second and seven from the Rutgers 22. Tim Brasic found EB Halsey on a swing pass to the left side of the field, but there was nothing there for Halsey to do, so he cut back completely across the field and managed to go twenty yards to the two-yard line. On the very next play, Pierre Thomas smashed the ball in the end zone, and Illinois completed the twenty-point comeback for a victory to open up the 2005 season.

Rutgers 30 - Illinois 33

The emotion shown after the game winning touchdown from the Illinois players and the coaching staff showed that they really wanted this game, and that there is a new page on Illinois football. Sure, this team might not be the most talented, but they are going to claw and fight with you until the very end. As Ron Zook says, the time is now to "believe" in Illinois football.

Quick Question from the Game Tape: Why wasn't Bruce Weber wearing orange?

Illini Inquirer Top Stories