Grading the Illinois football team after its loss at Michigan


Austin Yattoni

Illinois defensive back Stanley Green (17) dives after Purdue running back Brian Lankford-Johnson (37) during the game 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 41-8 loss at Michigan on Saturday. The Illini offense, defense, special teams and coaching were graded.

Offense: D

The odds were stacked against the Illini offense from the beginning. Not only does Michigan have one of the best defenses in the nation, but quarterbacks Wes Lunt and Chayce Crouch were unavailable for the game, leaving Illini freshman Jeff George Jr. to make his first career start. George Jr. was not able to pull off any miracles against the Wolverines. He threw the ball 15 times, but only completed four passes.

One of the few bright spots for the offense was a 43-yard touchdown pass from George Jr. to wide receiver Malik Turner. But that was the only points the Illini had all day. Since the Illini passing game was hindered, they needed their rushing attack to step up, but the Michigan defensive line was too much. The Illini only had 77 rushing yards, averaging 3.3 per run.

Defense: D

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This game was over after one quarter. Michigan’s offense dominated Illinois’ defense in the first quarter, scoring 21 points and racking up 200 total yards. The Illini were not able to slow down Michigan at all in the first half. By the end of the first half, the Illini were down 31-0. The defense was able to contain Michigan in the second half, but by then, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh was getting everybody reps. Fourteen different players recorded at least one rushing attempt.

The bright spots for the Illinois defense were Julian Jones and Stanley Green. Those two made plays early and often for the Illini, combining for 22 tackles. Green even forced a fumble. But in the end, the Wolverines’ offense was too much for the Illini defense.

Special Teams: B-

The Illini offense was not able to get close enough to give kicker Chase McLaughlin a chance: He did not get to kick one field goal all day, and he only got to kick it off twice. On the other hand, punter Ryan Frain got a really good workout for the Illini, punting six times for an average of 46.3 yards.

The Illini special teams defense kept Michigan Heisman candidate Jabril Peppers out of the end zone, which not many people can say they’ve done. Peppers did break off a 37-yard kickoff return right after the Illini scored their only touchdown, but he didn’t get all the way to the end zone, and with a player like that, that is an accomplishment.

Coaching: C+

This Illinois coaching staff did what they could with what they had. You can only prepare so much when the other team is as good as Michigan. The Wolverines’ proved that they are on another level, and coaching couldn’t make up for the talent gap. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee did all he could to keep the Michigan defense on its toes – including putting running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn under center, but it wasn’t enough. As soon as Lunt and Crouch were ruled out Saturday morning, everyone knew it was going to be a long day for the Illini offense, no matter what McGee did.

Head coaches Lovie Smith and Harbaugh were the first two former super bowl coaches to face each other at the college level, and Harbaugh took round one of this new series. It was over early, but Smith’s team didn’t give up. The defense controlled the game in the second half when it could have gotten even more out of hand very easy. Overall, this one can’t be blamed on the coaches as much as it can be on how good Michigan is.

sports@dailyillini. com