WEST LAFAYETTE (WCIA) — For the second week in a row, the Illini had the ball in the opponents half defending a lead and decided to punt on fourth and short. But just like last time out, the defense wasn’t able to keep Purdue out of the end zone leading to Illinois fourth straight loss. In the end it was one yard that made the difference in the decision.
“I wasn’t going to go for fourth and two,” says head coach Bret Bielema. “If we didn’t convert, we’d turn the ball over and give it to them at the 35 with huge momentum down three. I think everybody that talks about going for it, they’re thinking about they’re getting it. They don’t think about what happens when you don’t get it. I’m trying to win a game, not lose a game.”
The Illini came into Purdue without three starters — Chase Brown, Devon Weatherspoon and Jake Hansen.
Although the running game and defense were both strengths in the end. Freshman Josh McCray ran for over 150 yards for the first time in his career, and the defense grabbed two takeaways while holding the boilers to just 13 points, but that final Purdue drive proved to be the difference.
“It hurts, but you learn from it. It happens. We just gotta be better,” says Kerby Joseph who made a game-changing interception in Purdue’s end zone.
“I believe in our defense, I think coach believes in us and what we can do,” says defensive back Sydney Brown. It wasn’t enough to win the game today.”
Illinois wasn’t able to get anything going on the passing game — going for just 100 yards, but Bielema never considering making a change at quarterback.
The Illini drop to 1-4 on the season while Purdue improves to 3-1. Illinois now shifts their focus to next week when they welcome in Charlotte, who have the same amount of power five wins as the Illini this season.
James McCourt was the only Illini that got points on the board — the super-senior kicker hit three field goals, including a 51-yard attempt. Two interceptions from Tony Adams and Kerby Joseph in the second half shifted the momentum of the game, but Illinois struggled on offense going just 5-16 on third down conversions. The only silver lining was freshman runningback Josh McCray who had 24 carries for 156 yards.
Everything changed in the fourth quarter when Illinois elected to punt on 4th & 2nd on the Purdue 34-yard line. The Boilermakers came back to score their first touchdown of the game, giving them a 12-9 lead with 5:44 to go. The Illini had a chance to win the game with less than a minute to go, but quarterback Brandon Peters had three straight incompletions, handing Purdue the win.
Illinois will be back at Memorial Stadium to take on Charlotte next.