Illini offensive struggles continue at Purdue, coordinator Tony Petersen: “We’re so close”

Sports

CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — For the first time since 2018, Illinois football didn’t score a touchdown in a game. The last time it happened was a moment in time Illini Nation would rather forget, a dreadful 63-0 loss to Iowa at Memorial Stadium. Saturday’s 13-9 loss at Purdue was certainly better than that but other than freshman running back Josh McCray’s 156 yards on the ground, the Illinois offense really struggled to do much of anything productive. Quarterback Brandon Peters completed 14 of his 26 passes for 100 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. Despite the only Illini points coming off field goals (James McCourt went 3-for-4), offensive coordinator says his group is on the verge of pulling out a win.

“We’re coming up a few plays short and it’s sickening to everybody, we hate losing but we’re right there at the end of the game,” Petersen said. “Just got to keep battling because we’re so close, I promise you we’re so close and once you get over that edge, you start understanding and having that feeling for winning games, it starts happening more and more.”

Petersen said Peters is still QB1 for the Illini heading into Saturday morning’s 11 a.m. game against Charlotte. Illinois head coach Bret Bielema said he didn’t consider making a change during the game against the Boilermakers but wouldn’t commit to naming a starter on Monday.

“I would say the part that he (Peters) has definitely got to improve on is the consistency of making plays, the opportunities that exist,” said Bielema. “The part that I was encouraged about our offense is that we did take some shot plays that unfortunately didn’t happen and that could have been the difference on Saturday.”

The offense struggled but the defense rose to the occasion for the second straight week. Purdue tied a season low for points with 13, scoring its only touchdown with 5:44 remaining in the game. Other than that final drive, the Illini held the Big Ten’s top ranked passing offense to just 277 yards, pickin off Aidan O’Connell twice. The play of his unit left defensive coordinator Ryan Walters encouraged.

“I think that’s part of maturing as a unit, I think that’s part of gaining experience and just understanding how hard it is to win a football game, especially at this level,” Walters said. “So it’s the attention to detail and not being afraid of the moment or shying away from the moment and continuing to play as aggressive as you have all game.”

As for injuries, Bielema said he expects senior linebacker Jake Hansen to return this week after missing the Purdue game with an undisclosed injury. There was no update on Chase Brown and Devon Witherspoon who both didn’t travel to West Lafayette.

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