Favored by six points, the Illini don't get much done in second straight loss.
The jersey got a little tight for No. 23 Illinois. Favored by six points, the Illini fell behind by 21 before a too-little, too-late rally in a 21-14 loss at Purdue in a Big Ten Conference football game Saturday. Two weeks removed from the school's first 6-0 start in 60 years, the Illini lost for the second consecutive week. There's no shorter road trip for the Illini, but that must have been a quiet ride home. "This is the team that won six games,'' Illini coach Ron Zook said. "We have got to quit worrying about winning and just play. "I can't question our practices. We had great weeks. We get here on Saturday, we're tightening up a bit. Whether it's us or me, we have to just go play. We can't get caught up in all the other stuff. They've got to believe they can do it. We have to make sure we accentuate that.'' The Illini were sub-par on both sides of the ball, and a special teams fiasco led to Purdue's third touchdown. The change in the season's momentum couldn't have come at a worse time. After struggling against a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten program that was 17,000 short of a sellout on homecoming, Illinois (6-2 overall, 2-2 in the Big Ten) plays at Penn State next Saturday, followed by difficult home games against No. 18 Michigan and No. 4 Wisconsin in November. OK, so Minnesota is still sitting there and the end of the season, but that's far off on the horizon. "We're thinking too much in the sense of we have to win this game,'' said Illini linebacker Jonathan Brown. "We're thinking about the outcome instead of just going out and thinking about this play, then thinking about the next play. "A lot of guys experienced something they never experienced before. They went 6-0. We had a chance to make a run at the BCS national championship. Now people are starting to recognize what's at stake.'' Looking at the schedule, the Illini critics can easily see this one coming apart, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will work to stop his teammates from looking over their shoulder. "As a leader, you definitely keep that from happening,'' he said. "That's my role on the team -- keep the guys going and keep them confident. There's no reason why we shouldn't be. We can't think about what happened today or last week.'' Quarterback Caleb TerBush, the former Metamora prep star, led Purdue (4-3, 2-1) by passing for 178 yards and two touchdowns, but the Illini felt it was more about what they didn't do rather than what TerBush accomplished. "He did get lucky a couple of times when he got out of the pocket, but he's a big kid,'' said Illini safety Supo Sanni. "He got a couple long balls down the field, and that got his confidence up, which allowed him to gain momentum and for the team to score.'' No matter the critique, TerBush was the best player on the field. For the Illini, all three phases were asleep at the wheel in the first half. When the Illini trailed 21-0 in the second quarter, they still only had one first down. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino was looking for more playmakers, but he didn't find any that made a difference. The Illini didn't score until the fourth quarter, including the final touchdown with 54 seconds left. "We took turns making mistakes,'' Petrino said. "We didn't consistently execute like we did early in the year. We've got to get that solved. We're taking turns being the problem. Different people at different places. You have to come out and score points in the first half. That's the bottom line.'' The Illini defense allowed touchdown drives of 91 and 88 yards for a 14-0 deficit, reminding everyone that side of the ball was just as flat as the offense. "We got after them at halftime,'' defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. "We challenged them pretty good, but they challenged themselves. Some of the leaders in the defense stepped up. They played pretty good in the second half. I wish we would have done that in the first half.'' The Illini allowed just 75 yards in the second half. Trailing 14-0, freshman punter Justin DuVernois bobbled the snap before getting swamped by the Boilermakers. He was tackled for a 10-yard loss at the Illini 14-yard line. Purdue scored four plays later to lead by three touchdowns. NOTES: Purdue sacked Scheelhaase four times after entering the game with only six sacks all season. Illinois entered with 26 on the season but finished with one sack. . . Purdue won for the sixth time in the last seven against Illinois. . . The gametime and TV for Illinois-Penn State will be announced Sunday or Monday. John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnSupinie. Illinois report card Offense -- F By the time the offense finally scored in the fourth quarter, it was pretty much over. Coordinator Paul Petrino probably ditched the running game a little early, he said. Jason Ford showed signs of improvement by rushing for 83 yards. Defense -- D- While the defense dominated in the second half, the Illini didn't do the job in the first half. There was no emotion until a halftime 'pep' talk. Special teams -- F The return game ranked one spot from dead last in the nation, and the Illini averaged minus-1.75 yards on three punt returns. Nevertheless, the blooper came when punter Justin DuVernois bobble a snap and failed to get one off before getting tackled. Four plays and 14 yards later, Purdue had a 21-point lead. Overall -- F A six-point favorite over a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, the Illini showed there was little confidence in the locker room. After this one, there's little confidence among their fans. Illinois helped itself with a win at Happy Valley last season. A repeat? Otherwise, it could go from bad to worse.