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Illini, Railers come up short

By Jeff Mayfield          Send a link to a friend

[SEPT. 27, 2004]  Somebody forgot to tell the Purdue Boilmakers that they were going to have to play a little football on Saturday afternoon. They showed up like they were going for a stroll in the park and eventually held on 38-30 before over 50,000 highly entertained fans. And if Illinois hadn't obliged that swagger by fumbling the ball on an ill-advised trick play to start the game, the Boilers likely would have gone for a different kind of walk… a sucker's walk all the way back to West Lafayette! But coulda, shoulda, woulda, as the great Greg Taylor often says… and this game could fit into all three of Greg's categories!

Certainly, Kyle Orton lived up to a lot of his Heisman hype as he threw for 366 yards and four touchdowns. But it wasn't his passing that impressed me the most; it was his ability to avoid being sacked or to be hurried into very many throws. That's where this kid is really gifted and why he will soon be making millions on Sunday afternoons. Those TD passes won't hurt his resume either, by the way.

However, I really don't think it was Orton who beat the Illini this weekend. First, there was Purdue punter Dave Brytus. How much can a punter influence a game? you ask. What if I told you that Brytus boxed the Illini inside their own 20-yard line not once, not twice, but three times! And what if I told you that two of those three were inside the Illinois 10-yard line? He definitely helped the Boilers win the battle of possession, and I thought he was a huge factor in this game.

And not to take anything away from Orton, but the best athlete I saw on the field Saturday was Purdue senior Taylor Stubblefield. All he did was catch 11 passes for 115 yards and three touchdowns and may have sold some 50-50 tickets during timeouts! He killed the Illini. Although, I have to wonder if Illinois knew that he WAS an eligible receiver. Confused? So were the Illini defenders! It seems like it took them double or triple the normal time to pick Stubblefield up, and by the time they did he was running past them into the end zone.

When you are playing a team that runs the spread offense, if you give them a big cushion, they will pick you apart. You have to bust them hard at the line of scrimmage before they start their crossing routes or you have little hope of containing them, much less stopping them. Game, set and match, Miss Capriati.

Before I leave this story, I do want to give my Illinois game balls. And even though the defense did give up some yards and TDs, I thought they did many good things. I predicted for you that they would throw a lot of looks at Orton, and at times he was clearly baffled and frustrated. A year ago, Illinois lost to the Boilers something like 48-10, and 38-30 was not only better but as much as I have been entertained in a loss.

I also give a game ball to Illinois' offensive line. I had heard about how tough Purdue's defense was, and our guys made some holes you could drive my old Volkswagen through. E.B. Halsey, Pierre Thomas and Jason Davis are sensational backs, but kudos to the line for their blocking and their pass protection.

A game ball has to go to the Illinois kick return team as well. Last week Thomas took one to the house; this week he almost took another one and had one or two other good returns of the squibbers. Too bad the Illini can't use that special team in the regular offense.

Summation: If Illinois looked that good against the No. 15 team in the country, maybe they will win more games than we think. On the other hand, I did not think that Purdue looked like a top 20 team. At any rate, if Illinois brings this much fight, emotion and energy to EVERY game, I like our chances. Next week in cheese land might be a nice place to start the bowl run!


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Obviously, some of our staff didn't get to see the Lincoln Railer football game at Sacred Heart-Griffin, but it sounds like the Railers gave them a gutsy first-half effort. The reports I got indicated that Griffin's incredibly deep squad eventually took its toll on the Railsplitters. I admire Lincoln's tenacity and that there is no quit in them. It takes time to build, and if they stay the course, good things are going to happen to this program.

The wild-card races got a little crazier this weekend as losses played more prominently than wins. When I was a kid I used to like to watch the "Wacky Racers" cartoon show. I especially liked ol' Snidley Whiplash and his wonder dog, Mutley! I think the wild card is something ol' Snidley would have loved!

The Cubs fell twice in New York while the Giants fell twice at home to LA, which leaves the Cubs with a half-game lead as the teams head into the final week. Houston is STILL hanging around and San Diego might be a pretender, but Chicago's schedule leaves them in the driver's seat. If they can win five, or maybe they'll need just four of seven, that should be enough to get the job done.

The Cardinals swept the Rockies for win No. 103, which I think is the most they have had since 1944. If they can claim three of their last seven, they would tie the all-time mark for most victories in a season. However, I think I speak for all baseball fans when I say I would gladly trade that record for a world title.

Do you believe me about Vijay Singh yet?

I finally got to see 10 minutes of NFL action yesterday. I got to see a little of the Manning-Favre show… and what a show it was. And Greg Taylor was right once again -- those Colts are pretty good! I think Green Bay is good too and will make the playoffs, but the cream is definitely rising to the top. Philadelphia and Seattle, and Indianapolis and New England (and don't forget my Raiders) look pretty invincible after the first three weeks. The Bears looked good in what appeared to me as a tough loss, as did the Rams. However, as the Illini have found out, you can only endure so many tough losses. If you don't win, you're not going to get the job done.

Non-sports item of the week: I spent some time over the last couple of weeks with politicians running for office. What a tough way of life. Putting yourself and your family up for public scrutiny in a thankless world is rough sledding. I take my hat off to all of them. What I learned is that maybe we shouldn't be so quick to question, condemn or otherwise downgrade people who are willing to work long hours and do a lot of hard work on our behalf. I used to think that that lifestyle was so glamorous. I don't think I think that anymore.

There's probably a lot more I should be writing about, but since I've already veered off the path, we'll call this a wrap. Have a great week, everybody!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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