Illini searching for bright spots

Sure, the Gophers have been struggling to find consistency in their game, but it wasn't long ago when they were just consistently bad, which brings us to the struggles of their next opponent, the Illini.

The routine is getting all too familiar. As the Illini find themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard every week, coach Ron Turner comes out and tries to explain to the media what went wrong.

In losses to Wisconsin, Purdue and Michigan State, big plays by the opponents or early turnovers by the Illini keyed the results. The 56-14 loss to Michigan, however, was just a routine beating handed out by a much better opponent.

Here's the script in the first quarter: Michigan takes the opening kick off, marches down the field and scores on a 25-yard run by Chris Perry. Illinois takes the ensuing kickoff goes three-and-out and punts. Michigan marches down the field and scores on a two-yard run by Perry. Illinois follows that up with another unproductive drive and punts.

Both the offense and defense are playing equally uninspired football. With QB Jon Beutjer suffering from a back problem, freshman Chris Pazan was given the chance to run the Illinois offense. Veteran Dustin Ward was also on the bench, but Turner knows that the Illini are playing for next season and beyond, and that they are better off playing a quarterback who will be around next year as well.

Pazan was not awful, but he was not overly impressive. Playing under a constant rush, he completed 11-of-23 passes for 100 yards with an interception.

Beutjer's status is not known, but Illinois' run through the iron of the Big Ten will continue when hard-running Minnesota goes to Champaign this week.

GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Mark Kornfeld — He has been one of the most consistent forces on this inconsistent team. Kornfeld caught five passes for 77 yards and did not look intimidated going up against a much stronger Michigan team.

KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Dustin Ward — The senior quarterback has spent most of the season backing up Jon Beutjer and he did not get the starting call when Beutjer couldn't play due to a back problem. When Ward was summoned off the bench when coach Ron Turner had determined he had seen enough from freshman Chris Pazan, Ward promptly went 5-of-5 for 63 yards.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We lost the game up front. They have a very good football team and we didn't have a chance to get going offensively." — Head coach Ron Turner on Michigan.

LOOKING GOOD: RB Pierre Thomas scored two rushing touchdowns in the second half, so that would have to suffice as the team's highlight.

STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: There is not one area of the team that does not need some work. The secondary might have taken a step in the right direction when coach Ron Turner decided to bench CB Christian Morton and replace him with Taman Jordan.

INJURY IMPACT: QB Jon Beutjer missed the Michigan game with a back injury. RB E.B. Halsey was forced out of action in the second quarter with a right knee problem; he watched the rest of the game on crutches. DE Derrick Strong suffered a sprained right ankle when he was leg-whipped by a blocker on Steve Breaston's punt return for a score.

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