Someday, the Texas State Bobcats will have what it takes to knock off a P5 school. However, tonight's 42-35 loss to the Illinois Fighting Illini will go down with the 2005 loss at Texas A&M and the 2004 loss at Baylor as one of the program's near misses against power conference competition.
Despite giving up a 75 yard backwards screen pass for a touchdown to Josh Ferguson on the opening play from scrimmage, the Bobcats were able to nickle and dime their way down the field and notch a couple of touchdown passes to Jafus Gaines and Ben Ijah. Illinois played undisciplined on defense and missed a number of assignments as the Bobcats successfully attacked them with zone reads and screens. Texas State played disciplined football on the defensive end as well as Illinois kept attacking the Bobcats with unimaginative run plays up the middle and short routes behind the first down line.
After a lightning delay lasting almost two hours, Tyler Jones was also able to plunge his way into the end zone on a 1-yard run to give Texas State their largest lead of 21-6. However, that lead wouldn't last long as the Illini would take advantage of Texas State running a prevent defense (the only thing it prevents is the team that runs it from winning) and plunged Josh Ferguson once again into the end zone to cut the 'Cats lead to 21-13 just before halftime.
Illinois would come out hot after halftime as Wes Lunt helped his team go back to their original identity of an up tempo spread offense and, with the assistance of the dynamic Josh Ferguson, struck twice with two methodical drives down the field for Illini touchdowns. The Illini missed both two point conversions (why they tried the second one was somewhat incomprehensible), but the floodgates were about to open. Suddenly, Texas State for the second time that evening managed to stop the bleeding.
Colby Targun intercepted an inaccurate ball thrown by Lunt 48 yards into the opposing red zone, and Jones connected with Ben Ijah moments later for a 12 yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-25, Bobcats. The two teams then exchanged a couple of possessions, but then midway through the fourth quarter, disaster struck.
The Bobcats had Illinois stuffed in the red zone for a field goal attempt to tie the game, but as has been Texas State's Achilles' heel in both losses, they committed a dumb penalty at the worst time by running into the kicker and extending the Illini drive. Lunt would connect with Dudek for a touchdown soon afterwards, and from there the Illini would never relinquish their lead. After a field goal drive to extend the Illinois lead to 35-28, Tyler Jones made a bad read and was intercepted by impact corner V'Angelo Beasley for a pick six.
Jones and the Bobcats admirably responded by driving down the field 75 yards in 1:29 and scored on a 9 yard touchdown throw to Brandon Smith to give Texas State a last gasp at hope. However, those hopes were extinguished when a frenetic onside kick by Will Johnson was somehow recovered by Illinois despite multiple Bobcats having a shot at grabbing it.
Texas State will leave Champaign with a 1-2 record and a bitter taste in their mouths knowing that this game was theirs for the taking. Josh Ferguson had a heroic performance for the Illini and was going to be difficult to stop regardless, but the Bobcats didn't help themselves with their penalties, turnovers, a field goal miss by suddenly shaky placekicker Jason Dann, and the soft defensive strategy right before halftime.
Moral victories are for athletic departments trying to put a positive spin on losses. That said, the Bobcats fought to the bitter end, and showed that they have the talent to be a force in the Sun Belt, even without Mike Orakpo.
- Tyler Jones, Texas State: 29 of 43, 336 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT, 1 rushing TD
- Robert Lowe, Texas State: 26 carries, 117 yards, 4.5 YPC
- Josh Ferguson, Illinois: 14 carries, 190 yards, 13.6 YPC, 2 TDs; 4 rec., 43 yards, 1 rec. TD
- Mike Dudek, Illinois: 7 rec., 90 yards, 1 rec. TD
- Ben Ijah, Texas State: 5 rec., 65 yards, 2 TDs.
- Penalties: Texas State: 8 for 63 yards, Illinois: 4 for 19 yards