Report Card Time: How Illinois football grades out
October 15, 2014
Offense (overall): B-
Illinois leads the Big Ten passing offense with 2132 yards, but has failed to really muster a strong run game. Though the quarterback and wide receivers have clicked early in the fall, the road ahead will be tough as a result of a lackluster run game and an inconsistent quarterback situation.
Injuries sidelined Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt, who helped the team lead the Big Ten in passing offense with 1,569 yards and 13 touchdowns. Backups Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey have combined for 539 yards and three passing touchdowns, but also five interceptions. Time will tell whether one can really step up to lead the Illini in Lunt’s absence.
Running backs: D
Where the Illinois defense has struggled defending the run game, the Illinois offensive rushing attack hasn’t been much better. Running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young have combined for 636 of Illinois’ 729 rushing yards and nine of the team’s 10 rushing touchdowns.
Wide receivers: A-
A bright spot for Illinois is in its wide receivers. Freshman standout Mike Dudek is fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game with 85.4 and has 598 total yards. Dudek and junior college transfer Geronimo Allison are sixth and seventh in the Big Ten respectively in receptions per game.
Tight Ends: C
Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse each have a touchdown apiece and recorded 153 receiving yards. But as seniors, the pair should be doing more to help the Illini offense.
Offensive line: C
While the quarterbacks have performed in the pocket, the offensive line has failed at times to protect the passer. The offensive line has allowed 22 sacks for a loss of 140 yards. These sacks have allowed for multiple quarterback injuries.
The Illini defense has been the team’s Achilles’ heel, allowing 484.6 yards per game and 28 touchdowns in its first seven games. Ranking last in the conference in total defense and rushing defense, Illinois has had trouble stopping Big Ten running backs, giving up 19 rushing touchdowns this season.
Illinois’ linebackers have struggled this season, despite Mason Monheim’s two forced fumbles on 64 tackles. Six of the Illini’s top-10 leading tacklers are defensive backs, which comes from the team’s trouble stopping running backs at the line of scrimmage.
Led by senior Zane Petty, the Illini safeties have had their hands full this season. With Illinois’ trouble stopping the run, the team’s defensive backs have been forced to step in to stop opposing running backs when they break free through the Illini defense. Petty leads the Illini with 65 tackles while sophomore Taylor Barton and junior Eaton Spence also rank in the team’s top five tacklers.
Illinois’ pass defense ranks sixth in the Big Ten, but despite ranking in the middle of the conference, Illini cornerbacks haven’t seen that much action. Opposing teams have elected to run on Illinois, taking advantage of a weak rushing defense. Opposing teams have thrown the ball just 196 times on 561 plays against Illinois.
Defensive Line: B
Despite facing troubles with allowing large rushing gains, the Illini defense leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss per game. The Illini are averaging just under two sacks per game and have a veteran defensive line, led by senior Austin Teitsma and junior transfer Jihad Ward.
Special teams: C+
Illinois’ special teams have been fickle at best. Head coach Tim Beckman has voiced concerns all season about Illini kickers Taylor Zalewski and David Reisner, but has been happy with punter Justin Duvernois’ performance. Offensively, returner V’Angelo Bentley has yet to return a kick for a touchdown but has promising run backs on kickoffs to set up Illini drives.
Kicking (punting): A
Illini punter Justin Duvernois leads the Big Ten in punting, averaging 44.8 yards per punt; however, Illinois has been forced to punt more times than nearly every team in the conference. The Illini are tied with Northwestern for 39 punts in the first seven games.
Kicking (field goals/PAT): D
Illinois has struggled kicking field goals and converting point after attempts. The Illini have made just two field goals on five attempts this season, the worst in the conference. Kicker Taylor Zalewski was pulled in favor of David Reisner after failing to convert a PAT against Texas State, an act Reisner mimicked two weeks later against Purdue.
Kick/punt coverage: C+
Illinois’ kickoff coverage has been average this season, allowing 293 return yards on 36 kicks. The Illini punt coverage has been much better, only allowing 2.8 return yards per punt.
Illinois was looking forward to another impressive season from returner V’Angelo Bentley, who returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season. Bentley has yet to return a kick for a touchdown this season but has averaged 22.3 yards per return on kickoffs, a slight improvement from last year’s 21.4 return average. The returner has brought one back as far as 67 yards this season, leading to speculation over when Bentley will take one all the way back.