CHAMPAIGN—Louisiana Tech came to Illinois Saturday averaging 56 points a game. It’s safe to say Bulldogs don’t need much help finding the scoreboard. They got it anyway, from an Illinois team that couldn’t hold onto the ball.The Bulldogs (3-0) turned six Illinois turnovers and four touchdown passes from quarterback Colby Cameron into a 52-24 road upset of the Illini (2-2).And not just an upset for the Western Athletic Conference school, but a blowout.The Bulldogs led 21-7 at the end of the first quarter on Illinois’ first three turnovers, and dominated the Illini, never trailing again.
“I thought we played a lot more physical up front today than we have and made better plays on the football,” Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes said. “I think we gained a lot of confidence in the first half just because we had a lead.”
Cameron’s favorite target was Quinton Patton who caught six balls for 164 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulldogs.Cameron and Patton connected on a pair of early third-quarter touchdowns that put the Bulldogs up for good, 35-17.
“Regardless of who you’re playing you’re not going to win football games if you turn the football over and give up big strikes,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said. “I credit Louisiana Tech – I think Louisiana Tech’s got a good football team. But we still have to play much better.”
After missing the past two games with a sprained ankle, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was ineffective and left the game in the first quarter. Reilly O’Toole was 19 of 25 for 120 yards in his place.The Bulldog defense sacked Illinois’ quarterbacks five times.Illinois climbed back into the game in the second quarter, turning a 21-7 deficit to a manageable 21-17 while holding the Bulldogs to three yards of offense.The Bulldogs doused whatever spark the Illini felt as they came out of the locker room for the third quarter. And, like everything else Louisiana Tech did, it happened fast.On the quarter’s second play Cameron hit Patton deep down the right sideline for a 78-yard touchdown and a 28-17 lead that silenced a chilly Memorial Stadium crowd. Patton caught the ball well behind cornerback Terry Hawthorne, one of Illinois’ fastest players. And any helped he might have hoped for from his safeties never materialized.After a three-and-out from Illinois and O’Toole, the Bulldogs turned in a nine-play, 73-yard drive that, it weren’t for their no-huddle offense, might have chewed up four or five minutes. As it was, Cameron wrapped up the drive in well under three minutes, again finding Patton for a 21-yard touchdown.Patton again ran by Hawthorne as he cut across the middle of the field and caught the ball near the goal line.
“We’ve got to try to create some more pressure on the quarterback and we’ve got to cover better,” Beckman said. “I mean, you saw it.”
For all of Louisiana Tech’s quick-strike offensive ability, one special teams play summed a night of mistakes for Illinois.Trailing 35-17, the Illini forced a punt and were about to get the ball back, but the punt bounced off the back of blocker Justin Green inside his own 5-yard line and into the end zone. The Bulldogs’ Antonio Mitchum fell on the ball and, at 42-17 with more than four minutes left in the third quarter, the game was over.
“We talked in the past few weeks about finishing and that’s what we worked on tonight. I think we decided to capitalize on that in the third quarter,” Mitchum said.
Illinois’ first three turnovers cost the Illini dearly. All in the first quarter, they staked Louisiana Tech to a 21-7 lead.The last of those three was, for the Illini, the ugliest.Scheelhaase ran away from heavy pressure but was caught as he headed for the sideline by linebacker Rufus Porter who punched the ball loose. Defensive end Vontarrius Dora grabbed the fumble at the Illinois 38 and returned it to the Illinois 23-yard line.King again turned the Illini mistake into points, scrambling in from the 5, hitting the goal line and losing the ball as he did.Illinois challenged the touchdown call but, like much of what the Illini tried in the first quarter, it didn’t work. Officials upheld the call.Scheelhaase left the game after his fumble. He hadn’t played since late in the opener against Western Michigan almost three weeks ago after spraining his left ankle.
“We weren’t moving the ball so we decided as coaching staff, myself, that we’d give Reilly a chance,” Beckman said, saying only that Scheelhaase looked Rusty.
O’Toole – along with a mistake from the Bulldogs – helped Illinois claw its way back into the game.First Illinois turned a fumbled punt return by Craig Johnson deep in Bulldog territory into a 26-yard field goal by Taylor Zalewski to cut the gap to 21-10 with 12:14 left in the second quarter. Then O’Toole led Illinois on a methodical 13-play, 57 yard drive – overcoming a holding penalty that wiped out a 25-yard gain – that ended with a 1-yard touchdown by Donovonn Young. Illinois was back in the game, somehow down just four, 21-17, at the half.