CHAMPAIGN — Illinois lost another football game Saturday, but unlike last week against Wisconsin, this one wasn’t a laugher. Purdue came to town a seven-point favorite, and won by a touchdown.
The Boilermakerss got 376 yards passing.from Aidan O’Connell, who converted 29 of 36 attempts including two touchdowns.
Illinois had a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes. Josh Imatorbhebhe earned a pass interference call against Purdue, giving Illinois first-and-ten at the Boilers’ 15 yard line. Following three incompletions, Coran Taylor connected on a fourth-and-ten sideline pass to tailback Mike Epstein. But it was nowhere close to gaining enough yards. Purdue took over on downs, completed a pass, and ran out the clock.
Illinois took the field without starting quarterback Brandon Peters, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, as did reserve tight end Griffin Moore. In all, fourteen Illini were announced as “out” for the Purdue game, but the team did not officially report which of those fourteen were held back due to COVID protocol.
Those who were held back on the basis of contact tracing, but did not themselves test positive, included Moore’s roommate Isaiah Williams. Williams was the third string quarterback at the end of training camp, but took more snaps at Wisconsin than back-up Matt Robinson, who got the start against Purdue.
Robinson suffered a leg injury in the first quarter, and did not return. That left the fourth-stringer, Taylor, to play the rest of the game Afterward, the Peoria native said he had a short amount of time to prepare.
“Throughout the week, until Thursday, when we got the news that Brandon and Isaiah were going to be out, I probably had a maximum of four or five snaps during practice,” Taylor said. “And, so Thursday’s practice is when I started to roll in and get some extra reps.”
Placekicker James McCourt also sat out, giving Danville native Caleb Griffin an opportunity. Griffin converted all his placements, including three extra points and a 28-yard field goal from the left hashmark.
Brian Hightower and Daniel Imatorbhebhe each caught a touchdown pass for Illinois. Epstein scored the team’s only first half touchdown on a seven-yard scramble.
Taylor completed 17-29 passes for 273 yards. That included two touchdowns, but also a pair of interceptions. Taylor also rushed for 32 yards.
Head Coach Lovie Smith praised Taylor for performing well in a tough situation.
“When you’re fourth on the depth chart you don’t get a lot of plays during practice preparing for the opponent,” Smith said. “But Coran has paid attention, he knows our offense, and I thought he did a great job considering the tough situation we were forced to be in. There were some other things we needed to do better but he gave us a chance to win.”
Milton Wright and David Bell caught touchdown passes for Purdue. Zander Horvath scored Purdue’s other offensive touchdown on a one-yard dive. Purdue’s fourth touchdown came when Jalen Graham recovered an Illinois fumble in the end zone.
The Illini drop to 0-2 on the year, while the Boilermakers improve to 2-0. When the Illini return to action next week against Minnesota, all players who sat out under COVID rules will still be sidelined. At the earliest, they may be cleared to return on November 21, at Nebraska.
Rob McColley covers University of Illinois sports for WILL.