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Illini fall in familiar fashion against Purdue

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The Illini suffer their fourth straight loss.

Brad Repplinger

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.— That looked familiar.

The Illini once again clung to a fourt-quarter lead, and once again found a way to squander it away. Purdue (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) captured the Cannon and beat Illinois, 13-9, in an ugly game at Ross-Ade Stadium.

The first half featured as many punts as it did points (nine) and that only begins to tell how gritty the battle for the Cannon was on Saturday.

After a slow start, the Illini (1-4, 1-2 Big Ten) pieced together a scoring drive late in the first half led by freshman running back Josh McCray’s heavy rushing. Then, aided by a pass interference call on a deep throw attempt and a good balance of run and pass, the Illini opened up the second half with a 13-play drive to tie things up at 6. It still wasn’t pretty, but the Illini moved the ball much better after halftime.

Purdue’s offense had struggled all game long, so late in the third quarter after the Illini missed a go-ahead 54-yard field goal, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm decided to make the quarterback switch from Jack Plummer to Aiden O’Connell (something Purdue does often). Two plays later, O’Connell connected with Abdur-Rahmaan Yaseen for 43-yards setting up Purdue to potentially take the lead and score the game’s first touchdown.

On third-and-goal, Illini junior DB Kerby Joseph intercepted an O’Connell pass in the endzone with 1:30 to go in the third quarter — reversing all momentum. McCray then powered his way down the field, rushing for over 50 yards on the drive. The Illini topped off the drive with James McCourt’s third field goal of the game, a 45-yarder that gave Illinois their first lead of the game.

On the ensuing possession, Tony Adams picked off O’Connell. The senior QB was trying to get the ball to Kyle Bilodeau on a crossing route and Adams was waiting to deliver a big hit. Instead, the hit jarred the ball loose and Adams hung on for his sixth career interception.

Bret Bielema was then faced with a similar situation that he controversially decided to punt last week. This time around, the Illini were up 9-6 on the 34-yard line with 9:33 to play — and once again decided to punt the football.

“I’m trying to win a game, not lose a game,” said Illinois head coach Bret Bielema after the loss.

And just like last week, Purdue marched right down the field with a 10-play, 96-yard drive to take a 13-9 lead. O’Connell hit TJ Sheffield on a slant and the sophomore wideout took it 14-yards for the game’s first touchdown.

Unlike last week’s loss against Maryland, the Illini were able to muster up a drive. But after a 13-play effort, the Illini failed to convert on fourth down in the red zone, and the end result is just another tally in the “L” column.

“It’s frustrating to play that good of football and come away at the end of the day with the loss,” Bielema said.

McCray was a bright spot for the Illini, though, carrying the ball 24 times and picking up 156 yards on the ground. It was the freshman’s first career start and first 100-yard game, and will certainly be a building block for the Illini offense moving forward.

“Josh is a very good football player who is just beginning to scratch the surface,” Bielema said.

STAT STUFFERS

  • Josh McCray (Illinois): 24 carries, 156 yards — this is McCray’s first career 100-yard game.
  • Sydney Brown (Illinois): 7 tackles, one pass break up
  • Blake Hayes (Illinois): 6 punts, 4 inside the 20, long of 80 yards
  • George Karlaftis (Purdue): 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble
  • Aidan O’Connell (Purdue): 12-of-19 182 yards, 1 TD, 2 ints
  • Milton Wright (Purdue): 7 catches, 88 yards

SOUND SMART

  • The Illini are scoreless in first quarters this season.
  • This game breaks the all-time tie between these two schools, Purdue now leads the all-time series 46-45-6.
  • James McCourt extended his school record of 50+ yard kicks with a 51-yarder in the second quarter.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

Kerby Joseph with a massive pick.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Former NFL punter Pat McAfee continues to be impressed by Blake Hayes.

TWEET OF THE GAME

HE SAID IT

“Fourth-and-one, we would’ve went for it.” — Bielema on his decision to punt on 4th-and-two from the Purdue 34-yard line.

UP NEXT

Illinois finishes its nonconference slate next weekend against Charlotte. The Illini will host the 49ers, with kickoff set for 12 p.m. CT on Saturday on Big Ten Network.