Purdue defense stifles Illini, who drop 7th straight

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Illinois quarterback Cam Thomas is tackled by Purdue safety Navon Mosley during the first half Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind. | Michael Conroy/AP

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The beating goes on for coach Lovie Smith and Illinois.

The Illini lost their seventh consecutive game, falling to Purdue 29-10 on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Illinois (2-7, 0-6 Big Ten) has started 16 true freshmen this season, the most in the nation and an Illini record. That inexperience showed itself more on offense than defense.

The offense allowed nine tackles for loss and committed nine penalties for 66 yards. That didn’t help a young but competitive defense, which tired in the second half. Illinois was shut out 16-0 in the final 30 minutes.

“Throughout the course of the season, we’ve played good halves,” Smith said. “Being able to put two halves together is what we’re lacking right now. We haven’t been able to figure that out. We have a couple of injuries and are a beat-up team right now.”

Purdue (4-5, 2-3) snapped a three-game skid, earned the program’s first win in November in five years and produced the highest win total in a season since 2012.

However, the Boilermakers suffered a huge loss when quarterback David Blough suffered a severe and likely season-ending leg injury with 12:27 left while being tackled inside the Illinois 5-yard line.

Blough, who led the Big Ten in passing in 2016 and was 16-for-24 for 194 yards against the Illini, was carted off the field while sitting upright and pumping his fist to exhort the crowd. He left the stadium by ambulance.

“I don’t know for sure, but I know it’s a lower-leg injury,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “I think the leg was dislocated, but I don’t know for sure. It’s a fairly severe injury that hopefully he can come back from.”

The game was still in doubt when Blough left the game. But backup quarterback Elijah Sindelar threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Cole Herdman with 11:37 left, capping a 12-play, 91-yard drive that extended Purdue’s lead to 22-10. A two-point conversion run failed.

“Really, David’s injury fueled the fire for us,” Herdman said. “We got jacked up. We wanted to punch it in … didn’t want to throw the ball. We just wanted to run it down their throat. It really gave us energy because we wanted that touchdown for David.”

Meanwhile, Purdue’s aggressive defense registered five sacks.

“Our defense really got better as the game went on,” said Brohm, whose unit limited Illinois to 91 yards of total offense in the second half. “Earlier, we were not as sharp, and they were able to hit some big plays on us.”

The Boilermakers scored first on D.J. Knox’s 33-yard run with 10:24 left in the first quarter. Illinois countered with Jeff George Jr.’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Louis Dorsey with 4:34 left. The teams traded field goals before Purdue took a 13-10 lead into halftime on Spencer Evans’ 42-yarder as time expired. The Boilermakers took a 16-10 lead with 3:47 left in the third quarter on J.D. Dellinger’s 30-yard field goal.

Purdue outgained Illinois 435-250, even though the Boilermakers were only 5-for-13 on third-down conversions.

Illinois entered the game ranked 108th in rushing defense and had four Boilermakers run for at least 36 yards against them. Purdue totaled 209 yards on the ground.

The Boilermakers’ victory snapped a streak of five consecutive games in the series in which the visiting team came away with a victory, including the Boilermakers’ 34-31 overtime victory last season in Champaign.

Brohm improved to 17-1 in games played on Oct. 29 or later in the season.

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