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September 16, 2007Syracuse was winless in three tries facing Illinois in the Carrier Dome coming into Saturday's game, and that streak continued as the Orange lost their fourth game to the Illini in the Dome, 41-20.
The Orange offense looked hopelessly out of step to begin the game and it was unable to develop any sort of momentum or rhythm, as Syracuse dropped to a disappointing 0-3 on the season.
Quarterback Andrew Robinson failed to complete a single pass in the first quarter and the Orange couldn't even get a first down as the running game was also non-existent.
The defense looked equally inept. The Illini began the game by spreading the field with the passing game, using play-action and misdirection to spread the Orange defense out.
Robinson quickly dropped a linebacker in favor of a five-man secondary but the defense was still unable to stop the Illini.
"When they're putting four wide receivers on the field you'd better get some athletes out there," Coach Robinson said of his defensive change.
Still, it took Illinois only 2:04 to drive down the field and score on its opening possession.
Quarterback Juice Williams threw a 23-yard strike to tight end Jeff Cumberland to cap a 70 yard drive and put the Illini ahead 7-0.
The Orange's first drive showed little offensive progress from their first two losses.
Receiver Taj Smith dropped a well-thrown Andrew Robinson pass on third down to force the Orange to punt.
The Illini got the ball back and proceeded to march down the field again with little interference from the Orange defense.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall took a pitch around the left side and won a foot race to the pylon to score the Illini's second touchdown before the first quarter even ended.
As the second quarter began it looked for a moment as if the Orange might get the break they needed.
Mendenhall fumbled and the initial indication was that the Orange recovered.
The call was overruled, however, and to make matters worse Orange corner Nicholas Chestnut was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on the play.
"I saw some missed opportunities, some interceptions, a fumble opportunity that we didn't get - you have to make those plays," Greg Robinson said after the game.
The Orange showed some signs of offensive life in the second quarter but were unable to put any points on the board.
Robinson completed 9 passes for 76 yards but on a fourth-and-one from the Illini 27 yard line, Curtis Brinkley was trapped in the backfield for a loss and the Orange turned the ball over.
"We were down 14-0 by the time we got something going," Andrew Robinson said of the Orange's first success at moving the ball on offense. "We have to start a lot earlier and a lot faster than that."
Robinson finished the game with 17 completions on 26 attempts for 208 yards, but he failed to record a touchdown pass and was sacked five times.
"We didn't put points on the board and that's all that really matters," he said.
Greg Robinson's defense struggled once again against a mobile quarterback as Illinois' athletic signal caller, the six-foot-two, 223-pound Juice Williams sliced through the Orange defense time and again.
"Mobile quarterbacks are tough for everybody," Syracuse defensive end Jameel McClain, who finished the game with seven tackles, said afterward. "It's just an extra player to account for."
"That big back is talented," Greg Robinson said of Mendenhall. "And the quarterback is obviously a good football player. As time wore on I think they wore us down."
The Orange was able to cut into the Illini lead in the second half but it was too little, too late.
Robinson threw a screen pass to Brinkley who, after appearing to have been tackled, stayed on his feet and scrambled 62 yards to the Illinois two yard line.
Running back Jeremy Sellers found the end zone on the next play for his first career touchdown to pull the Orange to within 10.
Brinkley finished the game with 61 yards rushing on 18 carries and 89 yards receiving, largely thanks to the 62 yard pass.
But in the end, Mendenhall and Williams were too much for the Orange defense.
Both continued to exploit holes and find daylight as the Illini racked up yards and points.
Despite being replaced by backup quarterback Eddie McGee in the fourth quarter when the Illini had mounted a 34-10 lead, Williams rushed for 90 yards on 12 carries without being sacked once. He passed for only seven more yards, completing 13 of 18 attempts for 97 yards through the air.
Mendenhall ran over the Orange defense for 156 yards and three touchdowns on only 16 carries.
The Illini, who improved to 2-1 with their second straight win, racked up 41 points in the Dome before the final whistle blew.
The Illini have scored 96 points in their first three games.
The Orange were able to score again to make the final score look a more respectable 41-20, but the points were put up in garbage time when the Carrier Dome doors were already spinning with frustrated fans.
The third blowout for the Orange will no doubt have frustrated fans calling for changes, most notably at the top with head coach Greg Robinson, although Robinson refused to comment about rumors that his job might be in jeopardy.
Things aren't looking up either, with the Orange traveling to Louisville next weekend to face the undefeated Cardinals.
"We have no choice but to get our minds right tomorrow and get back at it," Greg Robinson said. "It comes down to the ability to block it out, toughen up, focus, and keep working."