Notes, player grades: Illinois collapses in Indiana, defense not enough to seal win

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Sydney Laput

Senior quarterback Tommy DeVito looks for an opening during the game against Wyoming on Aug. 27.

By Jonathan Alday, Assistant Sports Editor

After a solid Week 0 performance, Bret Bielmea dropped an egg in the second game of the season. Illinois had the game in its hands heading into the last Indiana drive. Kicker Caleb Griffin, with ice in his veins, kicked a 48-yarder to give Illinois a four-point lead with just 2:16 to go. The defense, who had held strong the entire game, couldn’t shut the game out, leading to frustration and disappointment among players, coaches and fans.

Chase Brown

Brown wasted no time asserting his dominance over Indiana’s defense, ending the night with 36 carries for 199 yards. Indiana had to make adjustments to make sure that they were keeping an eye on No. 2.

However, ending the game with 36 carries, while it seems great on paper, is alarming. As much as fans might want to believe Brown is Superman, signs of overuse were visible as the game headed into the fourth quarter. Especially as Illinois was stuck on the one-yard line after three previous attempts to run the ball with Chase Brown. Maybe don’t try to run it again? 

Caleb Griffin

Last week’s performance can be chalked up as a simple shaking of the old rust off. Griffin managed to do his job to the best of his ability, even completing what should have been the game-winning field goal. Griffin celebrated like Ayo and pranced out of the following kickoff feeling like a million bucks. Needless to say, he answered the lingering questions from last year on his ability to perform in clutch moments.

Griffin, here is your apology … for now.

Offense: C-

For an offense that was seemingly revitalized, it really dropped the ball in crucial situations. The offensive line had a hard time keeping opponents away from quarterback Tommy DeVito. It was a nice flex having the pocket clean for DeVito’s first Illinois game, but that was Wyoming. This is Indiana, a much better opponent. 

In addition to this, DeVito’s accuracy is still a concern. He fnished 21-35 for 232 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. That should’ve been enough for the win, but somehow, it wasn’t.

There were plenty of on-the-run pass attempts that should have been picked off. Isaiah Williams is a great player, and while the dropped passes aren’t great, the passing game can’t be dependent on just Williams being elusive and Brown working his tail off.

There were too many questionable play calls and plays you want back from this game, five trips to the red zone for only 17 red zone points and four turnovers in enemy territory. There’s gotta be more than just this for 10 more games, right?

Defense: B+

Other than the last drive collapse, the defense was solid. Sydney Brown finished with eight tackles, Devon Witherspoon ended the night with seven, Johnny Newton’s clutch sack heading into the fourth quarter was magical and multiple other tackles for loss and pass breakups helped keep Illinois in the game. The defense kept Indiana to 1.2 yards per carry with only two trips to the end zone.

Illinois’ defense seemingly sealed the game after a fumble recovery with 4:36 left on the clock. However, when called on for one last stop, the Illini allowed 75 yards in 12 plays in less than two minutes. There were too many uncontested passes on that last drive to end the game with a good taste in their mouth.

Depth is also becoming an issue in multiple positions, according to Bielema. Defensive line got hit hard with the on-and-off departure of Jamal Woods, and linebackers haven’t seen much production this season. The defense should’ve sealed the game, it just ran out of steam.

Final Notes

Simply said, Illinois handed the game to Indiana. Illinois led in time of possession and yards both rushing and passing. There were too many penalties, questionable clock management and play calling.

Yes, that Brian Hightower no-call was egregious. There were plenty of missed flags; but at the end of the day, Illinois has to learn to take the next step if they want to find some long-term success. With a tough rest of the season coming up, I want to hold out hope, but this year might just be another classic Illinois faceplant.

“You’ll start winning games when you deserve, we did not deserve to win this game,” Bielema said.

I agree with you, Bret. I agree.

 

@JonathanAlday7

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