Banks, Illini defense hoping for consistency


Illinois’ Mason Monheim and T.J. Neal tackle Minnesota’s KJ Maye during the homecoming game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Illini won 28-24.

By Sean Neumann

Consistency is the question.

The Illinois football defense played its most complete game of the season Saturday against Minnesota, holding the Golden Gophers to just three points on 86 total yards in the first half.

Now that Illinois has winning proof that defensive coordinator Tim Banks’ defensive gameplan can work, the hope is that the team can continue its progress against No. 13 Ohio State this Saturday.

“There was no question about any schemes,” linebacker Mason Monheim said. “It was just a matter of proving it.”

Illinois has allowed an average of 475.4 yards per game, with 258.6 coming on the ground.

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“We didn’t do anything different,” Banks said. “But when you win, you have a little bit more of a bounce in your step and you’re excited about keeping this thing going.”

Same gameplan against Buckeyes

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said the Illini will use the same offensive approach against Ohio State as they did against the Gophers: an offense led by senior quarterback Reilly O’Toole with the reserved possibility to use sophomore Aaron Bailey.

O’Toole agreed Saturday’s game was the best of his career. He threw for 118 yards and rushed for 59 more while scoring two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing).

The senior said Saturday’s game was the high point in his college career.

“It was nice to contribute to a win,” O’Toole said. “Hopefully there’s some more moments like this later on in the year.”

But this week’s upcoming game might be one of O’Toole’s final opportunities on the field with Illinois.

Beckman said injured starting quarterback Wes Lunt is making “great” progress and there’s a good chance he’ll be back on the field against Iowa on Nov. 15 — meaning O’Toole is likely to return to the backup role for the rest of his senior year.

DuVernois’ subtle impact

Senior punter Justin DuVernois was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after averaging 48.7 yards on nine punts Saturday.

The senior had two 61-yard punts, a performance Beckman called “unbelievable.”

DuVernois also had four punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including two inside Minnesota’s 10 — aiding the Illini defense by dramatically changing field position.

“The biggest thing that people overlook is the way that Justin’s been punting the ball,” Monheim said. “That’s huge in a game.”

DuVernois is statistically the best punter in the conference and ranks seventh in the country, averaging 45.8 yards per punt.

“You sure as heck would like to know that every time you go out there, you’re roughly guaranteed a 40-yard punt,” special teams coach Tim Salem said. “It’s not 55 one play and 22 the next, it’s that consistency that gets you through there.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @neumannthehuman.