CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — That is not the way you want to send off your seniors.
It was a pathetic showing for the Illini upperclassmen on their senior day. Illinois (4-7) welcomed Iowa to Memorial Stadium in Champaign and suffered its worst loss in school history, 63-0.
For a group of seniors that have been through it all in their collegiate careers, you couldn’t have conjured up a worse send-off. Three coaches later, just 14 total wins, and no bowl games. You have to feel for guys like Mike Dudek, Nick Allegretti, and Chase McLaughlin who gave their all to the program for four years with nothing to show for it.
“I loved every second [of playing at Illinois],” Allegretti said. “If I had gone back and could’ve made another decision, this is where I still would have gone. I absolutely love this university; the academics, athletics, the friends that I’ve made on the team and outside of the team. I would not have wanted to go anywhere else.”
The offense was unable to get anything going with running back Reggie Corbin held out of the final three quarters with a leg injury, and the loss removes any sliver of hope the Illini might have had to reach the 6-6 mark on the season and qualify for a bowl game.
“Missing Reggie is hard,” Allegretti said. “He’s a talented football player, and he’s been a major part of our offense... Coach Rod [Smith’s] offense should’ve worked today, we just didn’t execute well enough.”
The Illini offense struggled mightily without its No. 1 playmaker in Corbin. Ravon Bonner was able to rush for 111 yards on 21 attempts, but that was the lone bright spot in the game where Smith’s unit was able to scrape together only 11 first downs on 3.2 yards per play for 231 yards of total offense.
Senior transfer AJ Bush completed just 12-of-28 attempts for 82 yards to go along with two interceptions in the loss.
When asked about the loss, Bonner said: “It hurts. It’s hurting me right now. I’m doing everything I can to hold back tears. That’s now how we wanted this to end for the seniors like that in their last time playing in this stadium. I tried to do everything for them to win, it just wasn’t enough.”
Senior Del’Shawn Phillips started the game off on the right foot, picking off Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley’s pass on the second play from scrimmage. But Illinois was unable to get anything going on the ensuing possession; that was the story of the first quarter — and really the whole game.
The Hawkeyes (7-4) jumped on the board first midway through the opening quarter with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Stanley to tight end Noah Fant.
And with that score, the onslaught began.
Iowa was able to capitalize on its first possession of the second quarter with a 3-yard touchdown run by Mekhi Sargent. Then, on Illinois’ first play of the next drive, Ravon Bonner coughed it up deep in Illini territory and Iowa’s AJ Epenesa returned it 19 yards to put the Hawkeyes up by three scores. Nate Stanley would hook up with tight end TJ Hockenson twice more before half to give Kirk Ferentz’s squad a commanding 35-0 lead at the break.
“We were confident going into the game,” Allegretti said. “I still am confident in the scheme we ran today, we just didn’t execute. There were times when we made blocks and plays worked for 10, 12 yards a pop on runs, but there were too many negatives. It wasn’t consistent enough, and we couldn’t get a drive going.”
After another lackluster opening drive to start the second half, Illinois was forced to punt. Which would have been fine, but Iowa’s Kyle Groeneweg returned it 61 yards to give the Hawkeyes a seven score advantage.
Iowa would go on to score twice more in the fourth quarter by Sargent on a 29-yard run to make the game 56-0, and then, Toren Young tacked on a 14-yard rushing touchdown to give us the final score of 63-0.
“It’s a short turn around with Thanksgiving week coming up,” said wide receiver Sam Mays. “But we just have to focus and get right back in here tomorrow. We still trust in each other. It’s not like we just give up on each other. But at the same time, we do have to realize some of the mistakes we made, and we have to clean that up pretty fast.”
HE SAID IT
“We are building. We showed spurts of it this year, just not consistent enough. We’re not going to lose a lot this year... There’s still a lot of talent on this team and a lot of playmakers. This team will be better next year. We are better than we were last year. You’ll see a better product next year.” - Allegretti, on Illinois’ progress
First career 100-yard rushing game for Ra'Von Bonner— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) November 17, 2018
Bobby Roundtree has two sacks in a game for the third time this season, fourth of his career.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) November 17, 2018
TWEET OF THE GAME
Here’s the student section to start the second half of Illinois’ 2018 Senior Day. Yikes pic.twitter.com/6zFBECaDYB— TK (@TKissack20) November 17, 2018
Illinois will look to end the season on a good note when it travels to Northwestern (7-4) next Saturday in the 2018 season finale.