Grading Illinois Football’s loss to USF


By Jacob Diaz, Staff writer

Offense: D-

The Illini may have finished with 23 points, but don’t be fooled, it was another poor showing for the Illini on offense. Chayce Crouch went 8-18 for just 76 yards and a bad interception before Smith pulled him for Jeff George Jr. early in the third quarter. Mike Epstein impressed again in limited action, busting loose for a 45-yard touchdown run and catching a touchdown as well, but as the Bulls’ lead continued to grow, the Illini were forced to throw the ball more and more to catch up. Once the game had gotten out of hand, George Jr. was able to come in and throw for a touchdown and 211 yards, but the game was basically over as soon as he hit the field. He also threw two interceptions, both after getting hit as he threw. The Illini also committed a massive number of penalties, shooting themselves in the foot over and over again with false starts and holding penalties.

Defense: D

Coming off of an impressive showing against the pass-heavy Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, the Illini defense faced a very different challenge against the Quinton Flowers-led South Florida Bulls. Six Bulls carried the ball, and three finished with over 100 yards rushing. In total, USF ran the ball 63 times for 376 yards and two touchdowns. While spending 38:17 on the field certainly hurt the Illini defense, it is no excuse to give up over five yards-per-carry to four different ball carriers. From the opening drive there were gaping holes for the Bulls’ runners to hit, and the Illini missed tackle after tackle as Flowers and running back Darius Tice slipped past diving defenders. The secondary didn’t fare any better, giving up 304 yards on just 17 completions, an average of 17.9 yards-per-catch. Veteran cornerback Jaylen Dunlap made his return after sitting out the first two games with an injury, but he only recorded one tackle. Freshman corner Tony Adams did pick Flowers off in the end zone, but that was about the only bright spot for the Illini defense that looked like a completely different team for the third week in a row.

Special Teams: B+

The Illini blocked a field goal and an extra point early in the first quarter, and returned the extra point for two points. It was an exciting, crazy start to the game, and it was as close as the Illini got to actually keeping the score close. The special teams units didn’t do anything else special the rest of the way, but Kendrick Foster looked solid returning kickoffs, and Blake Hayes punted seven times and averaged 40 yards a pop. The Illini defense wasn’t able to force many punts, and Mike Dudek wasn’t able to return any punts at all. The special teams kept the Illini in it early, and gave them an opportunity to grab a lead. The offense and defense just couldn’t capitalize.

Coaching: D

The Illini’s game plans both on offense and defense completely failed, as evidenced by the massive gap in points and total yards between the two teams. At some level though, it is hard to blame Lovie Smith and his staff when his players were so clearly out of their league against a ranked opponent with a Heisman trophy-hopeful quarterback leading the charge. But not much went well for the Illini, who hadn’t even managed 100 yards of total offense when Smith pulled starting QB Chayce Crouch from the game. Crouch had struggled all game, throwing some questionable passes, including a particularly bad choice that led to a USF interception. The Illini also committed 15 penalties, giving USF 138 free yards. That simply cannot happen if the Illini want to have any chance against their tough Big Ten opponents.


[email protected]