It’s not often the case that a team that’s nearly doubled up its opposition in total offense finds itself on the wrong end of a double-digit lead.
Yet that’s the situation Illinois finds itself in Friday afternoon, trailing Louisiana Tech 21-9 despite an overwhelming 291-154 advantage in total offense. There were three big problems for the Illini, though: penalties, turnovers and shooting themselves in the kicking foot.
On the former front, the Illini were flagged eight times for 53 yards; Tech was only penalized once for five yards. On the latter front, it was a pair of missed field goals and an extra point as well as a botched opening kickoff that added to the Illini’s misery. And the turnovers? It was actually turnover, singular, but it was a huge one: with the Illini driving toward
missed field-goal range, a Reilly O’Toole pass — with a blatant hold on the receiver by the defense going uncalled — was intercepted and returned 69 yards for a touchdown by Xavier Woods.
Tech came into the game leading the nation in turnovers forced, with the pick-six increasing that total to 41. It was also the Bulldogs’ fifth defensive touchdown of the season.
Another issue for the Illini? Tech running back Kenneth Dixon took a perfectly-executed wheel route and turned it into an 80-yard touchdown. Dixon finished the first half with 115 yards from scrimmage.
Houston Bates, who transferred from Illinois to Tech earlier this year, had three first-half sacks. The senior came into the game with 5.5 this season.