Grading the Illinois football team after its win at Rutgers


Austin Yattoni

Illinois backup quarterback Chayce Crouch (7) looks to pass the ball during the game against Purdue at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, October 8. The Illini lost 34-31.

By The Daily Illini sports staff

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini football writers graded each facet of the Illinois football team’s 24-7 win at Rutgers on Saturday. The Illini offense, defense, special teams and coaching were graded.

Offense: B-

Illinois’ offensive focus against Rutgers was clear: run, run, run and run some more. 228 of the Illini’s 320 total yards came on the ground, led by redshirt junior back Kendrick Foster, who piled up 116 total yards for two scores in his first career start. Foster led the team with 21 carries and deserved his share of the touches Saturday, continuing to be one of the program’s major success stories this season. Redshirt freshman Reggie Corbin played well as a change-of-pace back and broke off a 53-yard run. Junior tailback Ke’Shawn Vaughn contributed with a 61-yard catch-and-run to put the Illini in the red zone.

The running game was the clear story after the game, but heading into the afternoon, all eyes were on sophomore quarterback Chayce Crouch in his first career start filling in for the injured Wes Lunt. The pressure may have gotten to Crouch, who struggled to get much going with his arm or legs. He threw a pick on the Illini’s first drive of the game, and 61 of his 92 passing yards came from Vaughn’s big play on a screen pass. It appeared he had some discomfort in his throwing shoulder in the second half and only attempted three passes in the final 30 minutes of play. Junior Malik Turner led the wide receivers with two catches for 18 yards.

Penalties remained an issue, especially on the offensive line. A holding call brought back a Crouch rushing touchdown early on, and a chop block on the Illini’s second drive scrapped good field positioning. 

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Defense: C+

Rutgers’ five turnovers jump out on the box score, but the majority of those were unforced errors. The Scarlet Knights showed why they’re in the cellar of the Big Ten by fumbling two snaps and losing two more balls to kill any chance at offensive momentum. Without those mistakes, this could’ve been an entirely different game because Illinois had trouble limiting drives. Rutgers had 385 total yards, including 203 on the ground and had no trouble extended drives, converting on 9 of 16 third downs. Third down efficiency has been huge for Illinois all season on both sides of the ball.

Senior defensive end Duwaune Smoot put together a dominant performance with 3 tackles for loss, two QB hurries and a sack. Redshirt freshman safety Patrick Nelson continued to impress with a team-leading 14 tackles, but much of that speaks to how easily Rutgers backs and receivers were flying into the Illini secondary. Darius Mosely returned an interception for a 78-yard touchdown to ice the game in the fourth quarter.

Special teams: C

Kicker Chase McLaughlin may still be feeling the effects of his crucial first miss of the season against Purdue — the sophomore was 1-for-3 on field goal attempts. He remains perfect on extra point tries, though, and pinned the Scarlet Knights deep on kickoffs. Punter Ryan Frain kept Rutgers inside its own 20 on two of his six punts, and kick coverage was solid on both sides.

Coaching: B-

Head coach Lovie Smith can breathe a little easier now that his first Big Ten win is out of the way. Granted, it was against the worst team in the conference, but as Smith would say, a win’s a win. The gameplan was ultra conservative on Saturday — over 75 percent of Illinois’ offensive snaps went for runs. It was smart not to put too much of a load on a quarterback making his first career start in a road conference game, but the shy playcalling won’t work against many other opponents moving forward. 

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