Third and long caused trouble for Illinois football’s defense

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Austin Yattoni

North Carolina defensive end Mikey Bart (45) and defensive tackle Jeremiah Clarke (49) dive on the ball after Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt (12) fumbled during the game against Illinois at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 10. The Illini loss 48-23.

By Cole Henke, Staff writer

The Illinois football team lost to North Carolina by 25 points on Saturday, with the Illini defense giving up 48 points. The team as a whole committed 13 penalties for 99 yards, and the offense didn’t score any points through the second and third quarter

But none of that got to Illinois head coach Lovie Smith more than his team’s defense on third down situations did.

“We put a big emphasis, like everyone, on getting off the field on third down,” Smith said. “If you have an opportunity when you have (the offense) in a third and long situation, you have to get off the field. I was most disappointed in how we handled third and long situations.”

While the Tar Heels converted five of 12 opportunities on third down, just barely better than the Illini’s seven of 18, they converted on two of four third-and-long opportunities. The Illini were not able to do that once.

Smith said the problem wasn’t leaving guys open as much as it was containing them after the catch was made.

Tar Heel quarterback Mitch Trubisky went 5-for-9 pass with 92 yards on third down attempts. But the back-breaker for the Illini was when Trubisky completed a screen pass to T.J. Logan on third and 15, and it turned into a touchdown after several missed tackles by Illini players.

“There were a couple areas (that I was very disappointed in),” defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson said. “Third and long was a kind of Achilles’ heel for us, and those are situations that we should really get after, and we should win those situations. Those were tough on us.”

Injury Report

Two Illini had to be helped off the field Saturday after undergoing injuries: strong Safety Caleb Day, and offensive lineman Gabe Megginson both suffered leg injuries.

Smith said it is a team rule of his to not disclose any information on injuries early in the week, so no specifics were given about either player’s condition.

Both players were listed on the depth chart for Saturday’s matchup against Western Michigan, but it was not confirmed that either would be playing.

If Megginson does not play, it will be the second week that the Illini don’t have their full offensive line healthy.

“You would like to have chemistry and keep one group together, but I have just never seen it happen that way,” Smith said. “But when an injury occurs, you hope you have a backup plan. When Joe Spencer missed the first game, Nick Allegretti slid over and did a super job. We don’t have a lot of guys with a ton of experience, but when you have an injury, you do have a plan that you feel pretty good about, and that is where we are right now.”

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