I really hope the Illinois football team and people who still claim to be a fan of the Illinois football team are happy right now, after a 42-35 win over Texas State. Seriously, I hope they’ve enjoyed these first four games and the 3-1 record the Illini has compiled. I sincerely hope that because I don’t know if this team can win another game this year (with the exception of Purdue, because Purdue is a joke).
On Saturday Illinois did as it has done in every game so far, sucked really hard for roughly 45 minutes and then pulled it together to grab a win from the claws of defeat. To state the obvious, this is an untenable style of play. Sure, it worked against an FCS team (Youngstown State, who led 9-7 at the start of the fourth quarter) and against two lesser FBS teams (Western Kentucky led 27-21 and Texas State led 28-25 at the start of the fourth), but this bullshit doesn’t work against good teams, like Washington (by the way, try to look up stats from that game on fightingillini.com, they don’t exist) or any Big Ten team not named Purdue (not to pile on, but everyone has to have someone to make fun of).
Fans at Memorial Stadium on Saturday saw first hand how miserable this Illini team can be and how awful the road ahead can get. Before the two-hour rain delay that occurred in the middle of the second quarter, Illinois were entirely outclassed by a team no one outside of San Marcos, Texas, knew anything about. After one quarter, Illinois trailed 14-6, had 1 first down to Texas State’s 9, and had 3 passing yards to TSU’s 89. The one good play for Illinois was the very first, when Josh Ferguson was pitched the ball and ran for 75 yards for a touchdown. Aside from that play, however, the Illini only gained 6 net yards in the first quarter. And, in true Illini fashion, Taylor Zalewski missed the extra point on the touchdown (losing his job, at least for the game, in the process).
In the second quarter, before and after the delay, Illinois was hardly any better. The team went roughly 21 minutes between gains of more than 10 yards, getting its second first down with 8:30 remaining before halftime. It wasn’t until the final drive of the first half for Illinois that quarterback Wes Lunt strung together consecutive completed passes, and it was no coincidence the Illini scored on that drive. Prior to that he was looking for short passes and missing wildly, looking a lot more like he did in the first game than he should have after three starts.
The Illini, and Lunt, really started their comeback in the third quarter, scoring twice on their first two drives of the half. But on both of those touchdowns Illinois went for two and on both they missed. Those conversion attempts were a microcosm of the game for Illinois: when Lunt couldn’t work it out, the whole offense looked bad.
Photos courtesy of Travis McDade.