Illinois drops eighth straight


Illinois drops eighth straight

CHAMPAIGN Illinois and Purdue provided exactly the kind of game that could have been expected in a match-up of Leaders Division basement dwellers not much of one.

Aside from a six-minute stretch of great play and a late scoring drive from Illinois, both teams struggled to put drives together on offense. In the end, Purdue came up with a 20-17 win, extending the Illinis conference losing streak at least one more week.

Excuses for the loss were varied after the game, from turnovers (Illinois had three, Purdue had none), to big plays (Purdues touchdown drives features 60-yard plays) and an inability to create big plays (the Illinis longest play of the day went for 22 yards).

We cannot turn the ball over and win. Ive stated that since day one, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said. The turnovers were hurting us. They were not giving us an opportunity to keep momentum and our opportunity to be successful. It deflates you.

Beckman's coaching staff agreed.

We gave up two big plays that were catastrophic. If we had to do it over again wed like to think wed make those plays, defensive coordinator Tim Banks said.

Right now, we dont have the one guy who stretches the field, offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said. Its hard to call plays and be perfect all the time when we dont have guys to get those chunk yards.

Illinois started the game with two good drives, marching 24 and 48 yards before fumbles by wide receiver Ryan Lankford brought the drives to a halt. After the second Lankford fumble, the Illini lost momentum and did have another drive longer than 20 yards until the middle of the third quarter.

The Illinois defense made up for any shortcomings on offense, however. The Illini forced three straight three-and-outs, allowing the Boilermakers zero first downs in the first quarter. After one quarter, the Illini had as many first downs (7) as Purdue had rushing yards.

Purdue was the first on the board, however. The Boilermakers put together a 78-yard drive from their own eight down to the Illinois 14 before the hosts could halt their progress. Purdue settled for a 31-yard field goal from Sam McCartney, taking a 3-0 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the first half.

The Illinois offense started to rally. After being pushed to third-and-14 on the first set of downs, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase broke off a 19-yard run to keep the drive alive. Another nine yards from running back Donovonn Young, along with a 15-yard facemask penalty put the Illini deeper into Purdue territory.

The Boilermakers defense stood up after the penalty, though, stuffing Illinois at the 37 before freshman Taylor Zalewski stepped up for his team, booting a 54-yard field goal just over the upright to tie the game with 6:45 left in the half.

On the ensuing possession, Purdue exploited a weakness in the Illini defense, throwing a bevy of receiver screens with success. The Boilermakers churned up yardage along the sidelines, marching to the Illinois 12 before McCartney came on and hit his second field goal of the day, staking Purdue to a 6-3 lead.

Scheelhaase got off to a good start on the ensuing drive, but after two first downs, he was pressured on his blindside and the ball popped loose. After review, it was judged Scheelhaase had, in fact, fumbled the ball and Purdue was awarded the ball at midfield.

Penalties and a sack from Michael Buchanan backed Purdue up, however, stopping the Boilermakers from taking advantage of Scheelhaases mistake.

Our defense did a really good job of staying in there, hats off to thembut turnovers put a lot of pressure on them, Scheelhaase said.

Illinois got the ball back at its own 15 with 45 seconds to play in the first half but let the clock run out without looking downfield, prompting boos from the home crowd.

Scheelhaase finished the game with 166 yards in the air, but had no pass longer than 22 yards. Beckman said the lack of a deep threat really came down to the pressure from Purdue and offensive line issues.

Weve gotta protect the quarterback and continue to protect him, he said. They were in a lot of man coveragesso theyre bringing five, six, seven guys. To go vertically, youre going to get your quarterback hit, so we felt we needed to get the ball out as quickly as possible.

The two teams combined for just 18 yards on the first three drives of the second half, but Purdue broke out in a big way with the fourth drive.

Quarterback Robert Marve took the first snap and rolled to the right, drawing the defense. With every Illini defender on the right, Marve tossed a screen pass to Akeem Hunt, who followed his blockers 63 yards for the games first touchdown. With eight minutes elapsed in the third quarter, the Boilermakers took a 13-3 lead.

It was a man coverage and somebody lost their eyes, Banks said, explaining how Purdue got an open field to work with on the touchdown pass. They didnt see him and everyone was running to the ballwe were in man and we gotta go to our man. It hurts.

A fourth down conversion by Illinois on a 10-yard pass from Scheelhaase to Young helped Illinois get some momentum going on the next drive before An impressive 22-yard reception to Darius Millines set the Illini up at the Purdue 16.

On the very next play, freshman Dami Ayoola ran for his second touchdown of the year and the Illinis first offensive touchdown in seven quarters. The 16-yard run brought Illinois within three at 13-10.

Purdue hit right back at Illinois, however, with Ralph Bolden breaking out for 63 yards on the first play of the next drive. Akeem Shavers reached paydirt two plays later with a six-yard run to give Purdue a 20-10 lead.

Late in the game Illinois made things close with a 95-yard drive capped by a two-yard touchdown by Scheelhaase, but it proved to be too little, too late. The onsides kick attempt did not bounce the Illinis way and Purdue ran out the clock to give Illinois its eighth straight loss.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

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As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.