Despite victory, Illinois run defense has faults

 

 

By Daniel Johnson

Although Illinois came away with a rather convincing win, head coach Ron Zook had to remind his players they won after a 47-21 taming of the Eastern Illinois Panthers. One of the more disconcerting aspects of the game was Illinois’ inability to effectively stop their opponents’ running game. After giving up 226 yards on the ground to Missouri, Illinois’ defense appeared a little porous, letting the Panther’s Travorus Bess rush for 183 yards on only 15 carries.

Illinois players and coaches attributed the gains to poor emotional focus and a lack of intensity at times.

“We’re not very good versus the run right now, that’s what that tells me,” co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch said. “We gotta get better, and yeah, it worries me.”

Disch cited this week what linebacker Brit Miller conceded last week — the tackling for Illinois was not what it should have been.

“We gotta tackle better, we can’t give up big plays,” Disch said. “A lot of those plays should be eight yards; our secondary has to come up and tackle and our ‘backers gotta come up and hit them in the mouth a little better, our (defensive line) has gotta knock them back. We’re not doing any of it really.”

Defensive tackle David Lindquist echoed his coach’s sentiments about the defense’s lack of emotion.

“We need to pick it up, we need to go out there this whole week and make some corrections … we need to do a lot better against the run,” the senior said. “It’s tackling; it’s all going out there with emotion and really just trying to knock somebody’s head off.”

Juice rewrites own record

Juice Williams broke his own record during the Illinois win, rushing for 174 yards on 16 attempts. Williams’ now-bested record of 145 yards for a quarterback came against Purdue in 2006. Ever the modest player, Williams shrugged off any sort of adulation that might come with the accomplishment, however.

“It means a lot, but I try not to think about statistics like that,” the junior said. “It’s not an individual sport and if I have success out there, it means the offense is probably doing pretty good.”

Even though Williams had a noteworthy day rushing, he wasn’t his finest through the air. He threw two interceptions, although one was a tipped ball that was not his doing. The first interception, which proved to be ineffective for Eastern in hindsight, was a poor decision that Williams said got his attention in the early going of Saturday’s contest.

“It was one of those things that really woke me up,” he said of the pick. “They were going to come out here and play, no matter what the name on our jersey says. I kind of bounced back and erased it out of my mind completely and kept moving forward from there.”

Williams credited his success to improved line play this week, something that was lacking against Missouri.

“We were able to go out there and play with attitude up front, that’s something that we really didn’t do last week,” he said.

Howard’s assessment of Wilson

During halftime, selected Illini greats were available to speak with the media. Former Illini linebacker Dana Howard was the player with the biggest audience, drawing the media’s attention for his underwhelmed, if not critical, attitude toward Martez Wilson.

“He’s got a ways to go; he has a lot of talent, he just needs to kind of concentrate, work a little bit more,” the former Amsterdam Admiral said. “He’s obviously going to play on Sundays, but it depends on what day he’s going to get picked on the draft, first or second. He needs to make his mind up and say, ‘I want to be a first day guy, top 20, top 30 selection.'”

When Howard was asked if he thought he was being hard on Wilson, being it was only his second start in college, Howard responded emphatically and succinctly.

“No.”

Wilson was glad to hear the criticism, however, because he said he knows it meant Howard believes he can play well enough to earn the disapproval.

“That coming from so high up, coming from someone with so much prestige, alumni, a legend at U of I, that just pushes me more, to work harder in practice,” the sophomore said. “I’m just going to take those words as motivation.