Bates: Illinois defense has to ‘grow up’

For the second straight game the Illinois defense was overwhelmed by a physical Big Ten rushing attack. Wisconsin’s offense, statistically tops in the conference, came into Memorial Stadium on Saturday and had its way with defensive coordinator Tim Banks’ unit.

Wisconsin put up 478 yards of total offense, 289 coming on the ground, and running back Gordon Melvin rushed for 142 yards and three touchdowns in a 56-32 win.

The Illini knew the game would be won in the trenches, but it was the Badgers’ linemen who had the upper hand.

“We know why we’re failing,” LEO Houston Bates said. “We just can’t fix it right now. The only way to do that is to practice better and get better, and we haven’t done that yet.

“Obviously something needs to change, and we need to change something during the week in practice and figure out why this isn’t right.”

In terms of defending the rush, Banks said there’s not much schematically that can change.

“At some point it’s going to come down to tackling,” Banks said. “It was like that when I was a baby; it’ll be like that when I’m long gone. That’s the name of the game: You’ve got to get off blocks and you’ve got to tackle.”

Tackling has been poor throughout much of the first half of the 2013 season. Banks also said he feels like he needs to do a better job coaching.

“When you don’t win, you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and figure out how to help the kids,” Banks said. “Because you’re all in it together.

“Coach talks about family and we are a family. I’m not saying, ‘Hey, my kids can’t play.’ Shoot, I’ve got to coach them better. That’s just how it is. I’ve got to make sure that I’m helping them to the best of my ability, and obviously with us not getting it done (Saturday), I don’t feel like I did that.”

Illinois’ tackling leaders all came from the secondary on Saturday — a testament to how successful the Badgers rushing attack was breaking through the Illinois defensive line. Wisconsin threw the ball 21 times compared to 46 rushing attempts.

Though the success came mostly on the ground, when the Badgers wanted to throw the ball, they had little trouble doing so. Quarterback Joel Stave threw completed 16 of 21 passes for 189 yards, 106 of them on passes to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis.

Cornerback V’Angelo Bentley left the game in the first quarter with a leg injury, meaning true freshmen Jaylen Dunlap and Darius Mosely had to step up in the secondary.

“I don’t think I played that well, personally,” Dunlap said. “I had a couple missed tackles. That’s something that I’m not used to doing. I’ve got to come back next weekend and make up for this weekend.”

Youth on the defensive side of the ball has been a theme all season long for Illinois. Now at the midway point in the year, Bates is tired of hearing it as an excuse.

“Guys need to grow up,” Bates said. “We have a lot of young guys on defense, but we can’t play young. We have to grow up and we’ve had some injuries. Those young guys going in, they have to grow up, they’re not freshmen anymore.

“If they weren’t prepared to play, they better be because we’ve got six football games left.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.