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Illinois can’t recover from bad first half at Kansas

The hole the Illini dug was too big to overcome.

Brad Repplinger // TCR

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Last weekend, the Illini fought back after a bad first half and completed a double-digit comeback victory. On the road, it was the same story with a different ending.

With Kansas as 3.5-point favorites, Friday’s primetime, nationally-televised game was expected to be tightly contested.

After the first half, it looked to be everything but. Kansas QB Jalon Daniels stole the show with 280 yards and two TDs in his season debut, and the rushing attack was good enough to keep Kansas ahead in a 34-23 win.


From the beginning, it was all Kansas. The Jayhawks scored with ease in their first two drives, out-gaining the Illini 167-24 and taking a 14-0 lead to end the first quarter.

The first-half comparisons were nightmarish for Illinois. Fans saw their top-scoring defense from last season (12.8 ppg) put the Illini in a 28-7 hole heading into the locker room.

With Daniels picked to be Preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, he and the Kansas offense played as advertised. While he didn’t get much going on the ground, lead running backs Devin Neal and Daniel Hishaw picked up the slack.

Neal led the team with 120 rushing yards and a touchdown. He and Hishaw accounted for 202 of the Jayhawks’ 262 rushing yards on the game.

Although the Kansas defense ranked last in the Big 12 last season in points (35.5 ppg) and yards (469.3 ypg), it looked eager to change the narrative on Friday. It did just that, as Illinois QB Luke Altmyer was swarmed all night. He was sacked him six times and intercepted twice.

Illinois showed signs of improvement in the second half, however. Losing 34-7, Altmyer led his offense down the field and used two rushing touchdowns of his own to cut the lead to 11 with eight minutes left in the game.

A big part of this resurgence was Isaiah Williams. His connection with Altmyer throughout the night gave him a team-high 99 receiving yards.

With the ball at midfield and only two minutes to spare, Altmyer’s attempt to find Williams again was broken up and intercepted, thus clinching the win for the Jayhawks.

The fight shown by Illinois in the second half was refreshing, but the defense still looked lost throughout the entire game. Outside of Altmyer, there was no established running game, and for the second straight outing, both the defensive and offensive lines were dominated.

The second half made things interesting, but just as the basketball team learned last year, winning teams play complete games, and the Illini looked nowhere complete tonight.

This squad has a lot to figure out.


BIG PLAYS: Illinois had its first momentum boost of the game late in the first half, going 75 yards down the field and cutting the Kansas lead to 21-7. Despite receiving the kickoff to start the second half, Kansas decided it wasn’t done scoring yet.

With only 35 seconds left in the half, Daniels escaped several would-be Illini tacklers and completed a 48-yard pass to WR Luke Grimm.

The Jayhawks scored a touchdown two plays later, giving themselves an important 7-point boost that ended up being important down the stretch. This play was one of Kansas’ FOURTEEN plays of 15+ yards in the game.

TARGETING: Many things went right for the Jayhawks, but keeping players in the game wasn’t one of them. Kansas had two ejections via targeting in the second half, giving Illinois a few chances to add pressure and cut the lead down.


Dual. Threat.


Chase Brown would be proud.



It doesn’t get any easier from here.

Illinois heads back to Champaign next weekend for a matchup against top-10 Penn State. The game will air on FOX at 11 a.m. on Saturday.