Illinois football falls to Indiana

In a battle of the Big Ten’s bottom feeders, it was the inability to keep the ball off the turf that crippled the Illinois football team. The Illini fumbled the ball inside their own 25 yard line twice, giving Indiana a short field. The Hoosiers capitalized on the miscues with 10 points en route to a 31-17 victory on Homecoming at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.

With the game tied at 14 midway through the second quarter, Illinois (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten) forced an Indiana three-and-out, but the Hoosiers punt was muffed by return man Tommy Davis. The fumble was recovered by Indiana’s Greg Heban at the Illinois 22. The Hoosiers (3-5, 1-3) capitalized on the mistake, scoring four plays later on a handoff to running back Stephen Houston.

“(Davis) is crushed,” head coach Tim Beckman said. “He said that that play caused the game. Well, not one play causes a game and that’s what you teach these young men. It’s a number of plays. We’ve just got to be more intelligent on making that decision on when he needs to be going after that ball.”

The Hoosiers took a 21-14 lead into halftime and the Illini stopped them on their first possession of the second half, but a fumble from Illinois running back Donovonn Young gave the Hoosiers the ball at the Illinois 20. Indiana’s Mitch Ewald knocked in a 28-yard field goal to give the Hoosiers a 10-point advantage.

“(It was) bad ball security,” Young said. “I was trying to fight for extra yards, had my hand on the ground and he hit me and it came out. It was just bad by me.”

In addition to the fumbles, the Illini were penalized eight times for 81 yards. Twice Illinois kept Hoosier scoring drives alive with penalties, including an offside penalty called on Glenn Foster on fourth-and-1 at the Illinois six.

“Those penalties hurt us a lot, I feel like they shifted the game into Indiana’s favor,” defensive back Ashante Williams said. “That’s something that you correct on the film Sunday. You’ve got to just keep working on fundamental things of football.”

Young ran for a career high 124 yards on 21 carries. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw a touchdown and rushed for another, compiling 208 total yards.

Illinois outgained Indiana in yards 372-292 and held an advantage in time of possession, but under quarterback Nate Sudfeld the Hoosiers were able to put together two drives of 60-plus yards ending in touchdowns. Sudfeld, who entered the game in relief of starter Cameron Coffman, threw for 107 yards and two touchdowns on 10-for-15 passing.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said he wasn’t sure why Indiana made the switch at quarterback, but that his players were prepared to face either playcaller.

Illinois has lost its last five games and has lost 10 straight Big Ten conference games, its last win coming against Indiana on Oct. 8, 2011. Prior to the game, neither Illinois nor Indiana had won a conference game in more than a year, with Indiana’s last victory coming in 2010.

“It’s not acceptable,” Beckman said. “And those young men understand what I mean. They’re in there hurting as much as anybody is hurting. They want to win, we want to win, everybody wants to win in this family. It’s not getting done at the level it needs to get done.”

Sean can be reached at sphammo2@dailyillini.com and @sean_hammond.