Illinois football’s season defined by off-the-field happenings

By Charlotte Carroll, Staff writer

The Illinois football team’s season started with a bang when head coach Tim Beckman was fired a week before the first game and replaced by offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.

That firing set the tone for the rest of the season.

On the field, Illinois looked like a better team than years past early in the season, but failed to maintain that look throughout the year. The Illini finished with a 5-7 overall record and a 2-6 mark in the Big Ten.

The team’s two conference wins came against Nebraska and Purdue.

Illinois notched its first win against the Cornhuskers since 1924 in a last-minute drive that was capped off by a Geronimo Allison touchdown grab with just 10 seconds remaining.

Illinois had a much larger margin of victory in the Purdue game, recording a 48-14 win over the Boilermakers during which the offense finished with 595 yards.

But the three early season victories and two conference wins weren’t enough to get the Illini to a bowl. Like last season, Illinois’ bowl chances rested on the final game of the season against Northwestern but in this year’s matchup at Soldier Field in Chicago, the Illini lost 24-14 against the Wildcats.

The team struggled throughout the season to maintain a presence. There were strong performances that showed a different Illini team, while other games made them look like the Illini of the past few seasons.

Though quarterback Wes Lunt was healthy all season, the Illini offense struggled to perform cohesively at times. Lunt went 270-for-481 with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions through the air.

The offense most embattled unit was its receiving corps, which was plagued by injury and dropped passes.

Receivers Mike Dudek and Justin Hardee were out the entire season with injuries. On the running front, freshmen Dre Brown and Reggie Corbin were out for the season with injuries. Running back Josh Ferguson was sidelined for a month with a shoulder injury he suffered in Week 5 against Nebraska.

The wide receivers had difficulties connecting with Lunt. Illinois tallied over 60 dropped passes on the season. Allison, who performed well early in the season, was quieted as defenses figured out how to defend him and forced Lunt to spread the ball out

The Illinois defensive line performed well despite questions of depth in the offseason. Instead it was the defensive secondary that struggled­ – Illinois was often beaten on long passes down the field.

The bright spot for the Illini secondary was senior safety Clayton Fejedelem who netted 140 tackles, good for tops in the conference. He was fifth in the nation in tackles per game.

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@charlottecrrll