Saturday, September 22, 2012
Illini battered by Louisiana Tech
By Brian Bennett
We can't say we didn't see this coming. Illinois seemed ripe for an upset at home by a potent Louisiana Tech offense. Still, the way it happened was nonetheless stunning.
The Bulldogs didn't just come into Champaign and pull out a hard-earned victory. They left tread marks on the Illini in a 52-24 shellacking. Louisiana Tech led just 21-17 at halftime but put up a couple of quick scores in the second half and blew things wide open. The Illini didn't help themselves with a fumble that led to a score and six total turnovers as Tim Beckman's team came completely unglued.
This makes it twice in three weeks that Illinois has been embarrassed by a high-tempo spread offense following the 45-14 blowout at Arizona State two weeks ago (and the Charleston Southern game was what we thought it was: a glorified scrimmage). Defense was supposed to be the strength of this team, but clearly it has trouble stopping teams that spread things out, which is odd because that's the kind of offense Illinois wants to run. But good opponents are making the defense look slow-footed.
The good news, if there is any, is that the Illini won't face a spread-type offense again until Oct. 13 against Michigan. Still, this team has some major issues, and it could be a long season if they aren't fixed.
Nathan Scheelhaase started at quarterback for the first time since the opener and threw an early touchdown pass. But Scheelhaase also fumbled and threw a bad interception and was pulled in the first half for Reilly O'Toole, who finished the game. O'Toole completed 19-of-25 passes but only for 120 yards against a highly sketchy Louisiana Tech defense. And the ball security problems were unacceptable.
There is still time to turn things around. But at this point, Illinois doesn't look like a serious contender in the Leaders Division, even in that division's currently weakened state.