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The Daily Illini

Coaching staff impressed with offensive line

Illinois+enters+the+field+at+the+start+of+the+game+against+Ball+State+on+Saturday%2C+Sep.+2.
Illinois enters the field at the start of the game against Ball State on Saturday, Sep. 2.

Illinois enters the field at the start of the game against Ball State on Saturday, Sep. 2.

Quentin Shaw

Quentin Shaw

Illinois enters the field at the start of the game against Ball State on Saturday, Sep. 2.

By Mike Gasick, Staff writer

Illinois started three true freshmen, one redshirt freshman and a junior on the offensive line against Iowa on Saturday.

The Illini were able to muster 200 yards on the ground and 446 total yards. Quarterback Jeff George Jr. was also sacked only one time.

The offensive line was vulnerable at times to penalties. Offensive lineman Vederian Lowe had two ineligible receiver down the field calls on him in the game.

Head coach Lovie Smith said these players are getting some valuable experience, despite making a few mistakes.

“There’s no reason to change things up when you like where we are,” Smith said. “We’ll see how practice goes, but we like where we are. In the run game, whenever you rush for that many yards, it takes everybody.”

Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee was pleased with the level of play he received from the offensive line.

He said the game was something his squad can use to build from going forward.

“(The line) kept a clean pocket for (George) to stand back and see what was going on,” McGee said. “I thought our two tackles did a great job against some exotic line games, but they’re really big, really long.”

Smith said Nick Allegretti had one of his best games since coming into the program.

The line will look to continue its success into its next matchup against Rutgers on Saturday.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them kind of getting in synch as an offensive front,” McGee said. “They all did a good job.”

Two Illini players injured against Iowa

Running back Mike Epstein and cornerback Tony Adams both suffered injuries against Iowa.

Epstein was forced to leave in the second half after injuring his lower body. Smith said he does not expect the true freshman to return to practice Monday.

Epstein finished the game with seven carries for 83 yards. His 58-yard run was the longest of the season for any Illini running back.

Adams also had to leave the game with a shoulder injury. He recorded one tackle before leaving the game.

The cornerback was atop the Big Ten leaderboard for lowest passer rating when targeting heading into Iowa. He was fifth behind Denzel Ward, Justin Layne, Grant Haley and Josiah Scott.

Smith said he is not sure how long his two players will be out.

The good and the bad of the new-look offense

The Illini offense had a different look with George Jr. under center Saturday.

The sophomore threw for 246 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

Junior wide receiver Mike Dudek said that he liked what he saw from George Jr.’s first start of the season.

“We had some turnovers, but that comes with the game,” Dudek said. “I thought Jeff, coming in in his start of the year, I thought he moved the ball really well. I believe we had almost 500 yards of offense, and we were throwing it all over the place, and he was putting it where we were supposed to be at.”

Smith said he wants to see more consistency from his offense taking care of the ball. The Illini turned the ball over four times against the Hawkeyes.

In addition to being impressed with George Jr., Smith was pleased with what his running backs brought to the game Saturday.

“Of course Mike Epstein, he’s played that way all year,” Smith said. “But Ra’Von Bonner, Reggie Corbin are giving a little bit different flavor.”

 

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