The Daily Illini

Press Box Bundle: Illinois vs. Minnesota

Illinois+running+back+Dre+Brown+%2825%29+celebrates+with+wide+receiver+Ricky+Smalling+%284%29+after+scoring+a+touchdown+during+the+game+against+Minnesota+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+3.
Illinois running back Dre Brown (25) celebrates with wide receiver Ricky Smalling (4) after scoring a touchdown during the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 3.

Illinois running back Dre Brown (25) celebrates with wide receiver Ricky Smalling (4) after scoring a touchdown during the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 3.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois running back Dre Brown (25) celebrates with wide receiver Ricky Smalling (4) after scoring a touchdown during the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 3.

By Eli Schuster, Sports Editor

The Daily Illini Game Day Podcast:

Observations:

It only took one game for the Illini to flip the script on the 2018 season.

A Lovie Smith-led defense showed huge signs of improvement and the Rod Smith offense continued to flourish. For, arguably, the first time in the Lovie era, the Illini football team showed convincing signs of a bright future.

The win for Illinois couldn’t have come at a better time; three-straight losses gave off a very familiar feeling for a program that went on a 10-game losing streak to close out the 2017 season. In addition, the Lovie hot seat conversation was turned to a simmer after Illinois’ blowout loss to Maryland, but the head coach quickly turned the burner off with his team’s strong showing.

As I made sure to tweet after Reggie Corbin’s second long touchdown run of the day, he is absurd. Corbin ran for a total of 78 yards last season and has now put himself at the third spot big ten with 952. The sheer explosiveness out of the backfield and the elusive ability to make defensive players miss in space is a deadly combination for opposing defenses.

The win over Minnesota also demonstrated that no matter the running back for the Illini, he can get the job done. Dre Brown’s story back to the football field is a remarkable one. The young man missed back-to-back seasons after coming to the University in 2015. Three years later, the junior rushed for his first touchdown in an Illini uniform on a 72-yard score.

Quarterback AJ Bush had a fight back to the limelight as well, losing the starting quarterback position earlier this season. The performance he put up against Minnesota was not only the best of the season but the best of his long collegiate career. Bush was finally looking like the quarterback on display in training camp. His arm has never been the most impressive, but Rod’s game plan to keep the passes short helped Bush put up a very productive outing through the air. The rushing display of Bush looked as expected, demonstrating his ability to keep plays alive and put points on the board with his legs.

On all cylinders, the offense was clicking.

On the defensive side of the ball, the performance was simply refreshing. Lovie demonstrated why he has been viewed as one of the best minds in the game, taking a defense that has been, for the lack of a better work, a mess into something relatively consist. Now, the following games against Nebraska and Iowa will pose new challenges as Lovie stays in the defensive play-calling position, but fans should be encouraged by the quick change he was able to make.

Also hearing that Lovie spoke with each unit of the defense to ask what the players thought could be done differently exposes a side to this team we all haven’t seen before. If anything, the inner workings of this team have appeared to be butting heads over the past three years, resulting in many transfers and several suspended players. However, the connection between Lovie and his players may have greatly expanded with the massive win and the coaches ability to give them a voice.

The season is by no means a success just yet, but doubling to win total in a blowout fashion most definitely has its perks.

Photos of the game:

Austin Yattoni
Illinois head coach Lovie Smith watches his team from the sideline during the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 3.

Tweets of the game:

@Schuster_Elias

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