Illinois drops eighth straight

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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.

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon’s messaging to Cubs before the 2017 campaign

Joe Maddon's Washington itinerary didn't include an hour-long sit-down with Chuck Todd for NBC's "Meet the Press." There would be no rehashing the manager's Game 7 decisions as he stood outside the West Wing, though the second question during the media stakeout involved "last year's team" and how the 2017 Cubs are prepared to defend a World Series title.

"You're already there, huh?" Maddon said to a CNN reporter, minutes after President Barack Obama's final official White House event ended on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

But last year's team is gone — preserved now in highlight films and the hearts and minds of generations of Cub fans — even if so many familiar faces will be in Mesa when pitchers and catchers officially report to Arizona on Valentine's Day.

It would be impossible to replicate everything that made the 2016 Cubs so special. Baseball has its own relentless pace and the dynamics are constantly shifting. (Remember when players were passive-aggressively complaining about Maddon's spring-training approach during the final week of a 103-win regular season?) The clubhouse chemistry will inevitably feel different after climbing a Mount Everest of professional sports.

"A mind once stretched has a very difficult time going back to its original form," Maddon said. "We're motivated by it. We want to do it again, of course. There's no question we're trying to do that.

"I'm really leaning on the phrase or the thought of being uncomfortable. I want us to be uncomfortable. I think the moment you get into your comfort zone after having such a significant moment in your life like that, the threat is that you're going to stop growing.

"So I really want us to be uncomfortable. I really want to continue (to see) a pattern of growth and really try to get at them very quickly again."

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Can Jason Heyward recover from one of the worst offensive seasons in the majors last year? Is Willson Contreras ready to be a frontline catcher? Will Javier Baez have to adjust back to being a role player after becoming a playoff superstar? Does Kyle Schwarber in the leadoff spot and Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare represent an upgrade over Dexter Fowler?

If healthy, Wade Davis should be a trusted, lower-maintenance closer than Aroldis Chapman, with an advanced approach to pitching and more clubhouse presence. As a staff, the Cubs will have to bounce back from pitching into early November (or not, in the case of the relievers Maddon didn't trust during the playoffs).

As it stands, Jon Lester (33) and John Lackey (38) have already combined to throw almost 5,000 innings in The Show (including the postseason). Jake Arrieta will have to deal with the pressure of playing for his megadeal in his final season before becoming a free agent.

The drop-off after Mike Montgomery — and it's still mostly projected potential with the No. 5 starter — appears to be very steep in an organization that doesn't have any high-end pitching prospects in the upper levels of the farm system.

After painting the bull's-eye on the chest and turning "Embrace The Target" and "Try Not To Suck" into viral T-shirts, a guy who hates meetings is still working on his themes for this campaign.

"I'm really rotating around the thought of authenticity," Maddon said. "I talked about it a lot last year, the fact that I think authenticity has a chance to repeat itself without even trying. It's part of who you are. It's not fabricated. It's real.

"I've talked about our guys a lot the last couple years. I think one of our strongest qualities is the authentic component of our players. So I'm really focusing on that word right now. Again, that's a great word to bring an entire message from (when) you get in front of the group that first day in spring training.

"I kind of just think like authenticity happens. And let's work it from there."

The costumes should be in midseason form with Maddon planning a house party around Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival before driving his RV from Florida to Arizona.

Maddon will turn 63 on Feb. 8 and have to keep evolving, just like his players, who might outgrow some of those gimmicks. But the Cubs are still a reflection of their future Hall of Fame manager.

Amid all the uncertainty in Washington, Maddon wouldn't touch a question about what advice he would give Donald Trump before Friday's inauguration.

"I'm not even going to go anywhere close to that," Maddon said. "I will say this: I have a lot of respect of the office.

"At the end of the day, just have a lot of respect for the office, regardless of your political persuasion. My point would be to encourage people to really respect the office and let's see what we get done here over the next four years."

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Bulls' Jimmy Butler voted All-Star Game starter

Jimmy Butler is heading to his third straight All-Star Game, and for the first time he'll be in the Eastern Conference's starting lineup.

CSNChicago.com Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill reported that Butler was voted an All-Star starter.

Butler has been sensational this season, averaging a career-best 24.8 points (tied for the 10th-best mark in the league entering Thursday's games), 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists per contest through 41 games. He's shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 34.5 percent from 3-point range.

Butler previously made Eastern Conference All-Star squads in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, though this is his first time in the starting five.