Recent offensive outbursts have Illini wondering what could have been

After a rather stagnant performance for most of the season, the Illinois offense racked up 476 yards of total offense in its 49-36 loss to Cincinnati last week, making players wish they could start the season over right now.

“I wish I could,” senior wide receiver Chris Duvalt said, pausing a few seconds to take a deep breath. “I wish I could.”

Illinois heads into its season finale against Fresno State averaging 31.3 points per game in its last four games, a far cry from the 16.1 it averaged through seven games.

“I think there are a lot of reasons,” head coach Ron Zook said of the early struggles. “Obviously, we haven’t done the things that we feel like we needed to do. The ball has bounced the wrong way at times, and we’ve had injuries at times. Players haven’t played as well, coaches haven’t coached as well.”

Duvalt acknowledged that injuries played a role in the offensive struggles but also pointed to the transition to new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, who joined the team this past offseason.

“That was all on our confidence level at the beginning of the year,” Duvalt said. “Especially getting the new offensive coordinator, we just had to get into a groove with Juice (Williams) and these new plays we’re running. That’s all it is.”

Duvalt said a lot of the team’s problems were evident during its 37-9 loss to Missouri to start the season, saying that all the players weren’t on the same page.

“I think that was the problem with the Missouri game,” Duvalt said.

“Nobody knew their roles and everyone wanted to be a star. I think that was the main problem at the beginning of the year.”

Bulldogs invade Midwest for 3rd time this year

Fresno State, a California public school, will take its third trip to the Midwest, having visited Wisconsin and Cincinnati already this season.

The only connection to the West Coast on the Illinois roster is junior linebacker Aaron Gress, who is from Exeter, Calif.

Gress was a high school teammate of Fresno State junior fullback Vince Pascoe.

“I know a couple guys on the team. I’ve played against a couple of the guys in high school,” Gress said. “They’ve got a lot of good players.”

Gress, a junior college transfer from the College of Sequoias in Visalia, Calif., has contributed mostly on special teams since joining the team in the offseason.

“Coming in, I’ve had to learn a new system,” Gress said.

“Working with the guys on the team has been great. They’ve definitely helped me out.”