By Shannon Ryan, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:13 PM EST, November 17, 2012
CHAMPAIGN — Illinois coach Tim Beckman mentioned 2007 frequently this week. It was the last season the football team left Memorial Stadium with a final home victory.
"That's what we were shooting for, an opportunity to be different," Beckman said.
Make it five seasons and counting of disappointment for Illini seniors.
Illinois lost 20-17 to Purdue on Saturday to stretch its Big Ten losing streak to 13 games.
Despite signs of improvement, the Illini (2-9, 0-7) produced more of the same: A turnover-prone offense, a defense that allows chunks of yardage in a few plays and mounting injuries.
Purdue (5-6, 2-5) can become bowl-eligible if it beats Indiana on Saturday, which would be a third straight victory for the once-hopeless Boilermakers.
Beckman was just as irked as he was a week ago in a loss to Minnesota with the propensity for turnovers. Illinois fumbled three times against the Boilermakers as receiver Ryan Lankford had two and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase one.
While Purdue did not capitalize on the errors, they killed Illini momentum.
"It was hurting us," Beckman said. "It was not giving us opportunities to do what we needed to be successful. It deflates you. You cannot turn the football over. It's a simple game."
The Illini broke a seven-quarter drought without an offensive touchdown when Dami Ayoola completed a 10-play drive with a 16-yard run late in the third quarter to cut Purdue's lead to 13-10.
But the Boilermakers answered 1 minute, 28 seconds later, with Akeem Shavers' 6-yard touchdown run coming after Ralph Bolden's 63-yard run and a 9-yard Shavers run.
Illinois showed some life in the fourth quarter with a 13-play, 95-yard scoring drive capped by a 2-yard Scheelhaase run with 3:29 left.
But Purdue recovered an onside kick, converted a fourth down and ran out the clock.
"It was a lot of us stopping ourselves," co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said.
Illinois' defense held Purdue to 8 yards in the first quarter. Of Purdue's 398 yards, two plays accounted for 126.
In addition to Bolden's run, quarterback Robert Marve completed a 63-yard touchdown pass to Akeem Hunt against Illinois' busted coverage for a 13-3 lead.
"All credit goes to them because we weren't prepared for those two plays," Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan said. "We did a good job of stopping them for the most part, but obviously those two big plays were crucial."
The Illini's lack of their own game-changing offensive plays was equally critical. Against Purdue's heavy blitzes, Illinois was forced into screen passes.
It didn't help that Lankford, the team's leading receiver, left the game with an ankle injury.
"We have to protect the quarterback," Beckman said. "To continue to push vertically, you are going to get your quarterback hit."