Hoosiers Spoil Illini's Homecoming

Homecoming in Champaign started out to be a wondrous time for alumni, as the Illini jumped out to a 25-7 lead over the Indiana Hoosiers. Then the wheels came off of the Homecoming parade. The Hoosiers went on to outscore Illinois 27-7, spoiling Illinois' Homecoming on a last second field goal.

Want to know a good way to ruin a Homecoming celebration? Lose a football game against any team when you are up 25-7 in the second quarter, and your offense hasn't yet been stopped by the opposing team's defense. That will put a damper on anyone's Homecoming celebration be it at a high school, or a college. I know a huge black cloud surrounded Champaign on Saturday afternoon as the Indiana Hoosiers outscored the Illinois Fighting Illini 27-7 over the final forty-one minutes of Illinois' Homecoming on Saturday afternoon en route to their 34-32 victory.

As I drove home to Chicago, there was a lot of emphasis on different plays that "cost" Illinois the game, but the one thing hearing all these different key plays discussed by upset callers reminded me of was that there was a lot of different things that caused Illinois to lose this football game.

Was it solely the two-attempted two point conversions in the first quarter? No, but they had their part.

Was it solely the botched punt return / fumble by EB Halsey? No, but it had its part.

Was it solely the offensive play calling? No, but it had its part.

Was it solely the kickoff return coverage's inability to slow down Marcus Thigpen? No, but it had its part.

Was it solely the defense's inability to slow down the Hoosier's offense in the second half? No, but it had its part.

Was it Jeff Cumberland's fault that he juggled a pass in the fourth quarter on the sideline? No, but it had its part, as well.

When you combine all the specific reasons that callers stated why Illinois lost Saturday's game together, you realize that it was a complete team effort that left the Illini with the L on Saturday. Each element in the game helped in the loss, and not one specific element was what cost the Illini the game.

Early on, it looked like the Illini were rolling. On the first drive of the game, the Illinois offense took over right where they left off in East Lansing. Juice Williams found DaJuan Warren for thirty yards on a third and eight, and then three plays later threw a brilliant pass over the middle to Kyle Hudson for an Illinois touchdown, and a 7-0 lead. Things were looking good for the Illini, but then on Indiana's next drive, the Illini would see something that they would see a lot of on Saturday afternoon: the back of Marcus Thigpen's jersey. Thanks to a 44 yard run from Marcus Thigpen, Indiana put the ball in the end zone two plays later to tie the game.

But the Illini offense would continue to roll. The Illini scored the next nineteen points of the game, and people in the stands were wondering when was the last time an Illinois team had a blow out win. Unfortunately, those fans were thinking a little bit too premature.

After Illinois' second field goal of the game, the Indiana defense adjusted to the Illinois offense, and the game was never the same. Instead of rushing their front four with the occasional linebacker coming after the quarterback, Indiana made the decision to not give Juice Williams any time in the pocket to pick apart their secondary. They blitzed Illinois on almost every play from the twelve-minute mark of the second quarter through the end of the game. Illinois' Mike Locksley had no counter to the Indiana blitzing attack outside of one reverse pass, and the Illini offense became stagnant for the final forty minutes of the game.

Unlike last week in East Lansing, the Illini defense looked lackadaisical. The Illini defense looked way too much like they were coached by Mike Mallory instead of what we have seen over the previous five games this season under new defensive coordinator Vince Okruch. They missed tackles. They could not get the stops when they needed it. They really just looked like last year's defense, and it was not a sight that any one wanted to see. There were many things that Illinois wanted to see come back to campus for Homecoming this weekend, but last year's defense was not one of them. Unfortunately, it appeared to arrive on campus with the rest of the alumni.

Next week the Illini welcome the Ohio Bobcats to Champaign for a game under the Memorial Stadium lights. Instead of going for what fans, coaches, and the players had hoped was a third straight win, the Illini will be trying to recover from today's loss. Today will be a day of sorrow, but Sunday starts a new week, and with it, hopefully a much more focused Illinois team looking to redeem themselves after an embarrassing loss to Indiana on Homecoming.

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