CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)-With just minutes left before halftime, Arkansas State turned a safety and a pair of field goals into a one-point lead on the road against Illinois.
But mishaps in the secondary and misses in the passing game cost the Red Wolves that lead and spoiled head coach Hugh Freeze's debut Saturday in a 33-15 loss.
"We didn't execute when we had chances to make plays," Freeze said. "We had some guys that were running free that if we throw and we catch it, I think the outcome would be different."
Since 2007, the Red Wolves have beaten Texas A&M and lost by eight points or fewer to Texas, Iowa, Louisville and Indiana.
On Saturday, they were up 8-7 on the Illini with less than three minutes left in the first half, and could have been up by more. Receiver Allen Muse early in the second quarter dropped what might have been a 65-yard touchdown.
"I tell everyone that's a pretty good football team, a lot better than what people thought," Illinois head coach Ron Zook said.
Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin was 20 of 32 for 290 yards, but the gaudiest numbers belonged to Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase, who had a career-high 267 yards on 16 of 23 passing with two touchdowns.
A.J. Jenkins finished with 11 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown, and Darius Millines caught five balls for 119 yards and a score.
The game turned on a pair of big plays by Jenkins and Millines, sandwiched around an acrobatic interception. Slips by Arkansas State cornerbacks turned the two completions into long touchdowns.
With 1:24 left in the second quarter, Scheelhaase hit Millines in the left flat. Cornerback Darryl Feemster looked to have Millines wrapped up for a short gain but fell, and the receiver ran 45 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
A field goal set up by a diving interception by Trulon Henry-he scooped a bobbled ball off the body of the sprawled Muse-made the score 17-8 at the half.
On the second play of the third quarter, Scheelhaase hit Jenkins in stride down the right sideline just as cornerback Darron Edwards stumbled. Jenkins raced to the end zone for a 72-yard score.
Jenkins said he and Millines spent the afternoon trying to top each other.
"When he scored, I knew I had to get at least one," the senior said. "Darius is a great receiver, but I had to make sure I keep my stats higher than his in every category."
"They're two really good players," offensive coordinator Paul Petrino added. "Jenkins, especially, he's trying to make the move from good to great. I think you were able to see that today. "
Arkansas State threatened throughout the second quarter, stuffing tailback Jason Ford in the end zone for a safety that put the Red Wolves on the board at 7-2, and using good field position to set up a pair of field goals by different kickers.
The first, by Bobby Zalud, was a line drive that split the uprights from 49 yards. The second, from 46 yards by Brian Davis, gave Arkansas State an 8-7 lead with 2:50 left in the first half.
Aplin said he was comfortable with the way the Red Wolves moved the ball early. Arkansas State had 107 yards passing at halftime.
"Definitely. We had a bunch of big plays; the (offensive) line did a good job today on a lot of those plays," he said.
Three of his receivers had five catches each: Taylor Stockemer with 87 yards, Dwayne Frampton 99 yards and Josh Jarobe 58 yards.
Redshirt freshman running back Frankie Jackson had Arkansas State's only touchdown, on a 1-yard run with 3:20 left in the game.
Illinois leaned heavily on Ford early. Sixty-seven of his 86 yards came in the first quarter, when the Illini gave him 10 carries. He also scored twice Saturday.
But he slowed quickly in the heat of the second quarter.
The crowd was announced at 45,154 but appeared much smaller on a day when Memorial Stadium personnel handed out paper fans to those coming through the gates. Forty-five people were treated for heat-related illnesses, with eight taken to local hospitals with what appeared to be minor ailments, Illinois spokesman Kent Brown said.
The game was the first of five straight at home for the Illini, who host South Dakota State next Saturday. Arkansas State next faces Memphis in the Red Wolves' home opener.
Scoring SummaryIllinois: Jason Ford 15 yd run (Derek Dimke kick)Arkansas St.: Amos Draper safetyArkansas St.: Bobby Zalud 49 yd FGArkansas St.: Brian Davis 47 yd FGIllinois: Darius Millines 45 yd pass from Nathan Scheelhaase (Derek Dimke kick)Illinois: Derek Dimke 32 yd FGIllinois: A.J. Jenkins 72 yd pass from Nathan Scheelhaase (failed 2pt rush)Illinois: Jason Ford 3 yd run (Derek Dimke kick)Illinois: Derek Dimke 19 yd FGArkansas St.: Frankie Jackson 1 yd run (Brian Davis kick)Team Statistics IllinoisArkansas St.TOTAL FIRST DOWNS2415TOTAL NET YARDS473350Total Plays7564Average Gain6.35.5NET YARDS RUSHING20260Rushes5032Average per rush41.9NET YARDS PASSING271290Completions-attempted17-2520-32Sacked32Yards Lost-21-13TOTAL TURNOVERS13Interceptions01Fumbles Lost12OTHER Penalties02Penalty Yards08Time of Possesion35:4324:17Punts44Punt Average3043.75Return Yards3666PassingIllinoisCMPATTYDSTDINTYDS/ATT Nathan Scheelhaase (0)16232672011.6Reilly O'Toole (0)124002.0Arkansas St.CMPATTYDSTDINTYDS/ATT Ryan Aplin (0)2032290019.1RushingIllinoisATTYDSTDAVG Jason Ford (0)228623.9Donovonn Young (0)63906.5Nathan Scheelhaase (0)122402.0Troy Pollard (0)223011.5Josh Ferguson (0)61502.5Miles Osei (0)110010.0Reilly O'Toole (0)1505.0Arkansas St.ATTYDSTDAVG Frankie Jackson (0)113913.5Jermaine Robertson (0)51503.0Ryan Aplin (0)91101.2Derek Lawson (0)4501.3 Team (0)1-10-1.0Sirgregory Thornton (0)1-40-4.0Andre Smith (0)1-50-5.0ReceivingIllinoisATTYDSTDAVG A.J. Jenkins (0)11148113.5 Darius Millines (0)5119123.8 Josh Ferguson (0)1404.0 Arkansas St.ATTYDSTDAVG Dwayne Frampton (0)599019.8 Taylor Stockemer (0)587017.4 Josh Jarboe (0)558011.6 Allen Muse (0)224012.0 Anthony Kincy (0)114014.0 Kedric Murry (0)1505.0 Frankie Jackson (0)1303.0