Illini Fall to Purdue on Senior Day

The Illini welcomed Purdue into Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the Senior Day festivities. After jumping out to a 23-14 lead early in the third quarter, the Illini offense handed (or fumbled or threw) the ball to the Purdue defense on four straight possessions. Purdue capitalized on the Illini's mistakes en route to a 42-31 victory.

It was Senior Day in Champaign, IL on Saturday afternoon and the Fighting Illini were in a position that they were not used to being in, the favorite. Thanks to the Illini's performance against Ohio State last Saturday, the Vegas oddsmakers decided the Illini had what it took to defeat the visiting Purdue Boilermakers. Unfortunately, Vegas was wrong.

If you had a feeling that you were Bill Murray in Groundhog Day on Saturday afternoon as you watched the Fighting Illini football game, you were not the only one. For the fifth time in the last six games, the Fighting Illini took a lead into halftime only to watch it completely erode before the final buzzer sounded.

On Saturday, the Illini took a 16-14 lead into halftime, and was up by 23-14 on Rashard Mendenhall's touchdown run early in the third quarter. But that is when the wheels started to fall off the cart. The Boilermakers scored on four of their next five drives (and the one drive they did not score on was a result of a missed field goal) to take a 42-23 lead on the Illini. The Illini scored the final touchdown of the game, and the Boilermakers won the game 42-31.

So where did things go wrong for the Fighting Illini on Saturday afternoon? Simply put, turnovers. Late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter, the Illini turned the ball over on four straight possessions (one interception and three fumbles). Not only did the Illini turn the ball over, but they did it in spectacular fashion. In those four possessions, the Illini ran a total of four plays, and managed to fumble the ball on three straight plays (though Pierre Thomas recovered his own fumble on the kickoff before Illinois' final touchdown drive).

Even with all of the turnovers, the Fighting Illini looked like they had a chance as the fourth quarter was winding down. The Illini were down eleven points, and had the ball on the Purdue nine yard line facing a fourth and seven. Instead of putting the points on the board with the field goal, Illini head coach Ron Zook decided to go for the first down and the touchdown. The play resulted in an incomplete pass from Juice Williams to Dajuan Warren over the middle.

Had the Illini taken the field goal, there would have been 3:51 left on the clock and they would have only been down eight points. Instead, Illinois was down eleven needing to stop Purdue on this drive and score twice. The Illini could not stop Purdue on their final drive, though, and the Boilermakers were able to run out the clock, leaving the Illini wondering once again what happened as they watched another second half lead dissipated and turned into a loss.

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