Illini Fall to No. 19 Huskies, 34-24
Illinois was handed their first loss of the season against the Washington Huskies on Saturday at Soldier Field. The Illini pulled within a touchdown with 9:10 remaining, but UW tacked on a field goal after a four-minute drive to seal the 34-24 Huskies' win.
"Obviously, any time you go out there, you're trying to win a ball game," quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. "That was definitely a very winnable game for us, and anytime you walk off the field without that win, there's something missing and you're walking off the field with not all that you wanted. I am proud of how our guys fought out there."
Although many expected the game to be a shootout, both offenses were scoreless in the first quarter of the game. Illinois' Mason Monheim and Jonathan Brown led the defense in holding the Huskies in a stalemate long into the first half.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Huskies got on the scoreboard with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Keith Price to Bishop Sankey with 11:09 left in the first half.
But Illinois fought back quickly, as Scheelhaase threw a 28-yard pass to Ryan Lankford, and a personal foul on the Huskies pushed the Illini to the UW 22 yard line. Scheelhaase threw up two passes into the end zone that slipped through the Illini's fingers, forcing UI to settle for a 40-yard Taylor Zalewski field goal.
The second fumble of the night for Washington was recovered by Illinois' Kenny Nelson with 6:15 left in the second quarter, giving Illinois another chance to make something of the Washington mishandle with the ball in Husky territory. But an incompletion and a sack forced an Illini punt.
Washington took over on its 9 yard line and put together a lengthy drive at the end of the first half, with a 39-yard pass from Price to Kevin Smith leaving UW on the Illinois 7 yard line. But the Illini defense stiffened and held the Huskies to a 23-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in the half as UW extended its lead to 10-3 at halftime.
With both teams hoping to get their offenses in gear in the second half, Washington quickly moved down field to start the third quarter and capped off a quick opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to pull ahead 17-3 two minutes into the quarter.
"Defensively, [we] did not slow them down," head coach Tim Beckman said. "Tackling was probably the major concern in the third and fourth quarter. We've got to tackle better when we're playing a team that's a Top-20 football team. Our players came out knowing that they had a chance to win this football game and fought 'til the end."
Following the Washington touchdown, Illinois turned to its ground game. Scheelhaase and Donovonn Young rushed for matching 14-yard gains on the Illini's first two plays of the second half, then Scheelhaase added 11 more to the Washington 36 yard line. After a first-down rush by Young and an incompletion, Scheelhaase floated an 11-yard pass to Martize Barr to continue Illinois' push upfield. Scheelhaase went for six, Young for seven and Josh Ferguson added seven more yards on the ground to land on the Washington 2 yard line. Scheelhaase finished the march with a 2-yard touchdown scamper with 9:14 left in the third, bringing Illinois within 17-10.
"We haven't come on in the third quarter and played, really this year," Beckman said. "It's something we've got to get better at doing. It's that third quarter that really has not been our quarter. I would say that every other quarter that we've played, we've played extremely well, except for that third quarter."
Washington started to move the ball on its next drive but faced 3rd-and-7 on the Illinois 39. But Jesse Callier ran around the left end into the open for a 39-yard touchdown and a 24-10 lead midway through the third. After a quick three-and-out by the Illini, the Huskies continued their offense power with Price tossing a 43-yard pass to Kasen Williams. After tacking on two runs and a nine-yard pass, the Huskies' extended the lead to 31-10 with 3:32 left in the quarter.
Scheelhaase gave the Chicago crowd a reason to jump out of their seats when he let a 72-yard heave fly right into an open Lankford's hands for the touchdown. Following the two Husky scores, the Scheelhaase-Lankford combo's touchdown brought life to the Illini fans as Illinois pulled within 31-17.
Down by 14 points heading down the final stretch, the Illini weren't going to fold to the Top-25 opponent. On 3rd-and-2 from the Illinois 46, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit dialed up a trick play where Miles Osei took a pitch running to his left, set his feet and hit Matt LaCosse with a 35-yard strike. Scheelhaase found Jon Davis for an 8-yard gain but a false start penalty moved the Illini back. Young regained the penalty yardage and one more, leaving Illinois in 3rd-and-1 from the 10. Scheelhaase's pass to Evan Wilson was out of the tight end's reach and, with the Illini at 4th-and-1, true-freshman Aaron Bailey ran in for the 10-yard touchdown to pull the Orange and Blue within 31-24 with 9:10 left to play.
But Illinois had no answer for Washington's ground attack, as the Huskies went on a methodical 11-play, 54-yard drive that chewed up 4:26 and ended with a 32-yard field goal to push the margin to 34-24. On Illinois' next drive, Scheelhaase ran for a first down but had a deep sideline route intercepted, all but sealing the game. UW ran out the clock from there, finishing the 34-24 Husky win.
"We played a lot better in the second half," Cubit said. "I think it was a big learning experience, the problem we all have is you don't want to learn when you lose, you want to learn when you win and, unfortunately, it didn't happen."
"I was proud of the way the team competed for four quarters," Beckman said. "We played a very, very good football team. Coach Sark (Sarkisian) got Washington into the direction he'd like Washington to head. We just didn't make plays when we needed to make plays. We left some points out there on the football field early in the football game, some situations where we could have put some points on the board."
Illinois has an open date next weekend before hosting Miami (Ohio) on Saturday, Sept. 28. The game time likely will be announced on Monday, Sept. 16.