It was dark. The clouds over Memorial Stadium loomed low and menacing. The score, 14-6 in favor of Texas State, only made it worse. Then the storm clouds released the lightning, pausing the game for two hours, leaving fans to worry about the outcome.
An opening 75-yard touchdown run by Josh Ferguson created hope, a missed extra point by Taylor Zalewski foreshadowed the next few hours.
After that, the Illini found new means of incompetence. The rest of the first half was a continuous steam of three-and-outs. The offense looked listless and Wes Lunt was unable to get any kind of momentum going. They amassed 6 yards during the span between Ferguson's run and the lightning delay.
On defense, it didn't seem like anyone was capable of making a tackle -- at one point, Texas State failed to get a first down not because an Illini player made a tackle, but because the ball carrier slipped and fell.
The storm brought a halt to the ongoing desolation but didn't quite wash away the futility. The Illini returned from the break and allowed Texas State to march down the field for another touchdown, making it 21-6. But the offense did look improved -- they flew 75-yards down the field in a drive that took 1:03 to complete.
It wasn't until after halftime that the defense began to figure things out. They held the Bobcats to three consecutive three-and-outs while the offense would regain the lead, 25-21.
Josh Ferguson would continue his monster day, finishing with 190 running yards (13.6 yards per carry) and 43 yards receiving with 3 touchdowns, 2 rushing and 1 passing. He was dodging tackles and blasting past the TSU front-7 with ease, making me wish he'd gotten more carries in the first three games.
A completely misjudged pass from Lunt led to an interception by Texas State safety Colby Targun, starting the Bobcats at the 13 yard line. They would score giving them the lead 28-25. The Illini once again entered the fourth quarter trailing.
Seventeen points (Lunt to Dudek touchdown, field goal by new kicker David Reisner, and Pick-6 by V'Angelo Bentley) put the Illini up 42-28. A garbage time touchdown by Texas State put the score at 42-35, but the game was over.
Illinois wins another one after being behind and Beckman's job remains balanced on the tight rope.
A few points before to end the recap:
I don't know about Lunt. Sometimes he makes throws that show he has talent - they're accurate and powerful with just the right amount of patience before the receiver gets open - other times they are none of those -- a receiver will be completely covered, he'll ground an easy pass, he'll overthrow a streaking receiver by 5 yards. Lunt, can you just pick a side? Yes, I'll just throw to Martize Barr down the sideline. (Then he throws an unwise interception) I mean-- How about I hit Dudek in the back of the endzone. So is Lunt in 2014.
The Illini have a tremendous misunderstanding of tackling. Their approach to a ball carrier is wrong. When approaching head-on, they run forward at full speed and then stop. Feet-buried-in-ground stop. And then they try from there to not let the ball carrier advance, but it doesn't work that way - the ball carrier will always have the first, and faster, move. This leaves the Illini lunging in their wake, using their arms, not their bodies, to knock the opponent off their feet.
Beckman may be winning, but I question his coaching. The Illini start every game with a lackluster first quarter. They're slow, prone to penalties, sometimes confused, slow, and out of sync. At first we hoped that it was just early-season jitters but each game tells the same story. They do make adjustments, which is a important aspect of coaching, but as we saw in the Washington game, it can be too little, too late.
We're 3-1. That's halfway to bowl eligibility and there's 8 games left to play. Not only that but we do have some positives to look at: Lunt can really throw the ball, the defense is better than before, our receivers are performing to the top of our hopes, and Ferguson can be great given he's the one carrying the ball. Positives!