Grading Illinois football’s loss to Nebraska

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Quentin Shaw

Illinois quarterback Chayce Crouch searches for a receiver down the field. The Illini lost to Nebraska 28-6

By The Daily Illini Sports Staff

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini football writers graded each facet of the Illinois football team’s 28-6 loss to Nebraska on Saturday. The Illini offense, defense, special teams, and coaching were graded.

Offense: D

The Illini set out to control the clock better against the Cornhuskers than they have against other teams, and they did. They also did not turn the ball over except for an interception on a Hail Mary pass as the first half expired. Other than that, there was not a lot of positives to take from this performance. Neither Mike Epstein nor Chayce Crouch covered more than 50 yards on the ground, and the Illini as a team managed just 2.5 yards-per-carry. Crouch completed nine of his 15 passes for 99 yards as the Illini finished the day with under 200 yards of total offense. The Illini also failed to score a touchdown, despite reaching first-and-goal twice.

Defense: D

The first half could not have gone worse for the Illini defense. Starting safety Bennett Williams was ejected from the game for targeting in the third play, and that play turned a third and long into 15 yards and a first down. Things continued to go wrong, as a simple slant over the middle became a 45-yard touchdown. Nebraska’s offense consistently found holes in the pass coverage and kept the offense balanced with 160 yards on the ground. Nebraska scored touchdowns on all three of its drives in the first half. The defense showed improvement in the second half, forcing a fumble and holding Nebraska to seven points. But the damage had been done, and the Illini weren’t coming back from a 21-3 halftime deficit.

Special Teams: B-

At least punter Blake Hayes played well again. Three of Hayes’ punts forced Nebraska to start possessions on their own 12, 11 and 7 yard-lines and averaged 37 yards-per-punt. Kicker Chase McLaughlin wasn’t tested by two 25-yard attempts, but he made both field goals like he was supposed to. Kendrick Foster’s first kick return went well, and he took the Illini to the 29 yard-line, but he muffed the next two kicks. The ball bounced off of his hands on both, and while the Illini recovered the ball both times, they started both drives pinned on their own 18.

Coaching: B

The play-calling had its ups and downs throughout the night. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee utilized quarterback Chayce Crouch’s legs. The play calls included using Crouch and his running backs with a read option that worked at times. However, Nebraska’s defense caught up and stuffed both Crouch and the running backs in the second half. Lovie Smith and McGee decided to keep Jeff George, Jr. off the field the whole night after he saw action against South Florida. The defense went in with a zone scheme. We couldn’t put the blame on the coaching staff for how much separation the receivers were getting on the Illini defenders. The coaching staff could have maybe tried some things on the defense, but the inexperience of the Illini really showed tonight.