CHAMPAIGN Louisiana Tech is not a household name for college football fans, but after the Bulldogs 52-24 blowout win at Illinois, name recognition might not be a problem.
You have to credit La. Tech, they have a good team, Illinois coach Tim Beckman said after the game. They just beat us.
Big plays and turnovers were the biggest problems for Illinois on Saturday. The Illini turned the ball over a total of six times against La. Tech (leading directly to five touchdowns) and allowed receiver Quinton Patton to rack up 164 yards and two touchdowns on just six catches.
Those lapses were about the only thing Beckman wanted to talk about after the game.
We did not do a good job with turning the ball over and giving up big strikes defensively. And that was the name of the game, he said. We have to play much better to compete in the Big Ten.
Early on, Illinois defense looked like it might be up to the task of facing the nations fifth ranked offense.
In their first two games the Bulldogs found the endzone on their first possession, in Champaign though, Illinois slowed down La. Techs high-flying offense. The Illini came up with a three-and-out and recovered a fumble in the Bulldogs first two possessions, giving the offense a chance to strike early.
Nathan Scheelhaase, starting his first game since September 1, completed six passes to start the game, culminating with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Lankford, who made an acrobatic catch to reel the ball in.
On their third possession, however, the Bulldogs started to move the ball as if they remembered they were the fifth-ranked offense in the nation. The La. Tech running backs started making defenders miss tackles and picking up the pace. Two-and-a-half minutes after their third drive began, quarterback Colby Cameron hit an outstretched D.J. Banks for a 27-yard touchdown reception, tying the game.
With that the momentum was with the visitors. On Illinois next drive, Scheelhaase sent a pass directly into the arms of linebacker Solomon Randle. La Tech ran a flea flicker on their first offensive play after the pick, Cameron to Quenton Patton for 40 yards, and then pounded the ball in on a nine-yard run by Tevin King.
The Illinois collapse continued, as Scheelhaase fumbled three plays into the next possession, setting La. Tech up at the Illinois 23. A minute later King was in the endzone again, this time from five yards out, giving the Bulldogs a 21-7 lead.
After the two disastrous possessions Scheelhaase was relegated to the sidelines, making way for sophomore Reilly OToole. Beckman said his starting quarterback was not all that he could be and said he and his coaches felt it was right to pull him out.
He looked rusty early with a couple of turnovers and we werent moving the ball. So we decided as a coaching staff that we would give Reilly an opportunity, he said.
OToole started slowly but came to life on his second possession. He hit five straight targets on his second drive, piling up 49 yards and running for a first down. His solid play helped Illinois crack the scoreboard again, this time on a 1-yard run by Young with four minutes left in the first half.
Thanks to a Taylor Zalewski field goal, the Illini outscored La. Tech 10-0 in the second quarter and dominated time of possession.
The Bulldogs did not have to rely on time of possession, however, and proved that two plays into the second half.
Cameron and Patton connected quickly after halftime for a 78-yard touchdown reception. The duo got together again just five minutes later, this time for a 21-yard touchdown reception.
From there things got ugly for the Illini. Turnovers mounted and big plays seemed to be second nature for La. Tech. The Bulldogs would score twice more in the third quarter and once early in the fourth to claim a commanding 52-17 lead.
OToole would pick up a one-yard touchdown run with five minutes to play in the game, but it was little consolation for the deflated Illini players and coaches.
Im pretty sure I can speak for the rest of my teammates: Were very embarrassed by this loss and we have to get things fixed, defensive end Michael Buchanan said.
With the Big 10 season starting next week, the Illini have little time left to find improvement. The players asserted their commitment to making those improvements and competing in the conference, however.
Tomorrow well come in, watch the film, and basically see what we need to better which is move the ball and put points on the board and well go from there, wide receiver Ryan Lankford said.