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Illini fall to 1-6, but AD says Zook will return in 2010

Illini fall to 1-6, but AD says Zook will return in 2010

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Dan Dierking, Ralph Bolden, Walt Aikens, Garrett Edwards
Purdue running back Ralph Boldin (23) takes a hit from Illinois defensive backs Walt Aikens (15) and Garrett Edwards (20) during the second quarter of their Big Ten Conference football game in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2009. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - It wasn't a blowout and no one was seriously hurt.

That's what passes for good news these days in the world of University of Illinois football.

Aside from that, Saturday's game at Ross-Ade Stadium was remarkably like other Illini games this season. Spurts of decent play were surrounded by longer periods in which blocks and tackles were missed, penalties were called and turnovers proved costly.

Purdue built a 21-7 halftime lead and won 24-14, handing Illinois its fifth straight loss and dropping its record to 1-6 overall, 0-5 in the Big Ten.

"If we had played in the first half the way we did in the second half, it could possibly have been a different game," said Illini coach Ron Zook, who earlier in the day received a vote of confidence from his boss, athletic director Ron Guenther.

Guenther said once the season ends there will be changes, but that Zook would be back to coach the team again next year.

"I am not worried about me," Zook said after the game. "I'm worried about this football team. I appreciate it, obviously. I've said this since the day I walked onto campus, I think Ron Guenther is the best thing about this job. He understands. We're going to get this thing the way it's supposed to be."

It can be argued that the Illini defense buckled down in the second half, limiting the Boilermakers to just one field goal.

But Illinois' offense - which saw the debut of redshirt freshman Jacob Charest in an off-and-on relief stint for starting quarterback Juice Williams - went completely flat down the stretch.

Illinois had pulled to within 21-14 with 7:18 left in the third quarter. Williams' ran it in from six yards out to cap a 60-yard drive.

But Illinois' final five possessions of the game netted just 42 yards and two first downs, one of those coming thanks to a Purdue penalty.

"Our defense went out and rose to the occasion," Purdue head coach Danny Hope said. "I kept thinking our offense would put the ball out of reach. But the defense was the difference-maker. They've been getting better every week."

The real turning point for the Illini may have come just before halftime, with Purdue already on top 21-7.

In Charest's second possession, Illinois moved the ball to the Purdue 2-yard line, helped by a nice 31-yard fourth down pass from Charest to tight end Hubie Graham.

"That was a great feeling, one of the most fun plays I've ever had in football," said Charest, a 6-foot-4 second-year player from North Carolina.

But the coaches replaced Charest with Williams with the ball so near the goal line, apparently so Williams could use his option running ability.

On first-and-goal, Jason Ford was dumped for a one-yard loss. Then Williams handed off to wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who hurdled into the end zone for an apparent touchdown.

However, Illini center Eric Block was called for holding, pushing the ball back to the 12. From there, Williams threw a six-yard pass to Benn, then missed badly on a third-down pass that sailed well out of the end zone.

So with just six seconds left in the half, Illinois was forced to settle for a field goal try. But Matt Eller's 23-yard chip shot missed.

"It's like we get in the red zone and there's a wall," Zook said, shaking his head. "We have to get it in there. And then we do and there's a holding call."

Illinois actually scored first, taking a 7-0 lead with 6:49 left in the first quarter on Daniel Dufrene's four-yard run. It represented Illinois' only first-quarter lead this season with the exception of the Illinois State game on Sept. 12.

But Purdue answered quickly, tying the score 7-7 when Jaycen Taylor burst through the Illini defense and raced 44 yards for a touchdown two minutes later.

After Williams threw an interception late in the first quarter, Purdue marched 68 yards in 11 plays, capping the drive with a three-yard touchdown run by Ralph Bolden. The TD was set up when Illinois' Travon Bellamy was called for pass interference in the end zone.

That made it 14-7 and the Boilers scored on their next possession, too, moving 62 yards in 10 plays. Quarterback Joey Elliott could not find an open receiver from the five-yard line, so he ran it in for a 21-7 lead with 5:38 left in the half.

On the day, Charest completed four of eight passes for 52 yards. Williams completed 9 of 18 for 77 yards.

Zook said he anticipates going with a two-quarterback rotation the rest of the way, with Williams and Charest sharing time. Eddie McGee, who was the starting quarterback against Michigan State on Oct. 10, played more at wide receiver Saturday.

Zook said he felt Charest did well in his debut.

"The decision was going to be, do you start him or so you bring him in (after Williams)? We thought in the position we were in, bring him in the second or third series," Zook said. "He knew that. Juice knew that.

"He did a nice job. It's pretty hard to be in that situation, but he made some nice plays."

Mikel Leshoure finished with 122 yards rushing in just 16 carries, aided by a 65-yard run that set up Illinois' first touchdown of the day.

It was the second victory in a row for Purdue (3-5, 2-2), which last week ended a five-game losing streak by upsetting Ohio State.

After two straight road games, Illinois returns home this week to host Michigan.

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