The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Bland offense, penalties, lack of production lead to disappointing start for Illinois

James Hoeck
Wide receiver Isaiah Williams after the Illini rushed the field after their win against Toledo on Sept. 2. With the season started the Illini’s flaws in their performance brings disappointment.

As week three approaches and the Illini return home, it is clear that this isn’t the same team from a year ago. Sure, it’s still early, but the mistakes aren’t new and firepower is missing from the secondary.

Considering how wide open the Big Ten West Division is this year, the Illini are still right on pace for another eight-win season. So, what problems have hurt them so far, and how can they be fixed?

It starts with year two offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.’s offense. While some believed Lunney Jr. might open up the vault more this year, the play call seems to still think quarterback Tommy DeVito and running back Chase Brown are on the field. A lack of downfield passes combined with predictable running plays has not worked thus far, but a solid receiving core has yet to create much desire to change things.

“It starts with the receivers,” said junior receiver Isaiah Williams. “We’ve gotta make catches … everybody has gotta do (their) job. Starting from the o-line, to the quarterback, to the running back, to the receivers, we all need each other.”

Receivers aren’t the only group struggling for the Illini. A failure from certain position groups to live up to expectations has become a norm. The offensive and defensive lines were considered strong suits of the 2023 squad, but both have been subpar through two games.

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“We’ve gotta create our own identity every week rather than living off the past,” said junior defensive tackle Jer’Zhan Newton.

The past was full of dominant defensive performances, where the defensive line feasted while three future NFL players all patrolled the same secondary. Now, star defensive backs are gone, and the lineman are being targeted. Newton knows they need to play better in order to win, but it’s easier said than done.

“We gotta step it up,” Newton said. “We aren’t playing to our best potential: mental errors, mistakes, a lot of touchdowns and a lot of penalties.”

So, what can the Illini do? It starts with discipline and penalties, as Newton mentioned. The Illini averaged the third most penalty yards surrendered per game in the conference over the last five seasons. 2023 is no different, with the Illini tied for 110th in the country so far for penalties in their first two games.

Head coach Bret Bielema is used to week two turnarounds. Just look at 2021: After a 42-14 loss to the Virginia Cavaliers, the team turned things around defensively and salvaged a mediocre season. Nobody would’ve guessed the Illini were on their way to an eight-win season after week two last year either.

“It’s one of those moments where you just gotta let everyone know that it’s a long season,” Williams said. “This is not the end of the world. We can use this as motivation to make us better.”

There is plenty of time to meet the program’s lofty expectations, and it wouldn’t be surprising for Bielema to figure things out. Still, the start has been disappointing, and the Illini are fortunate to be 1-1. They now turn to the Penn State Nittany Lions, looking to right the ship.



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About the Contributors
Ben Fader
Ben Fader, Sports Editor
Hello, I’m Ben! I’m a junior at Illinois and assistant sports editor at The Daily Illini. I’m majoring in journalism and minoring in communications and recreation, sport and tourism. This is my third year with The Daily Illini, and I can’t wait to produce some amazing work. Feel free to contact me at my email below with questions or concerns, or if you just want to talk sports!
James Hoeck
James Hoeck, Photo Editor
Heyo! I am James Hoeck, a third-year undergraduate student in photography with a minor in media. I have been a part of Illini Media for two years, starting back in fall 2021. I hold the position of Photo Editor here at The Daily Illini. I also work as Photo Editor for Illini Media’s Illio Yearbook. There is a good chance you will see me out and about on campus taking photos for my personal work or for The DI and/or Illio! If you want to check out more of my work, visit my socials linked below.
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