Illini need to start fighting before they’re knocked out

The Illini really would stand a better chance in the Big Ten if they could get their heads into the game before the score has put them out of it.

A 21-0 deficit brought a flurry of “the rout is on” tweets as Illinois fans bemoaned being Illinois fans and all was normal and average in Champaign once again.

I had thought the Illini could win, and if they hadn’t started the game about as terribly as you can start a football game without deliberately trying to lose, they may have had a decent chance to compete.

Illinois can’t defend the run. It can’t defend the pass. I’m tired of it, you’re tired of it, Houston Bates is tired of it.

“Guys need to grow up,” the junior LEO said. “We have a lot of young guys on defense, but we can’t play young. … Those young guys going in, they have to grow up, they’re not freshmen anymore.”

It’s frustrating, and it’s hard to tell with this team whether there’s actually been evolution since last season defensively. We’ve seen things completely change on offense, but Tim Banks hasn’t had success coordinating this Illinois defense.

The secondary is young, and undoubtedly not at the level that Big Ten cornerbacks and safeties need to be, but why is the coverage so soft? Illinois gives about five yards of space on short crossing patterns, so you’ve seen many short gains go for 10 to 15 yards, or more if the tackling is off, which it has been all season.

What can you do at this point?

There’s no free agency or trading in college football — you have who you have. Illinois has inexperienced players that aren’t living up to their billing.

Illinois’ defensive line hasn’t done a heck of a lot, period. They aren’t the ones getting beat or missing tackles, they’re the ones you don’t notice because of how proficiently they’re being blocked by opposing offensive lines.

Illinois’ secondary has been beaten time and again, and what throws Joel Stave did miss were more because of inaccuracy than any semblance of coverage.

There will be no stopping opposing offenses this season, only the allowance of opposing offenses to stop themselves. When Wisconsin allowed Illinois to make a run in the second quarter Saturday, it was because Melvin Gordon stopped getting the ball.

Whether Tim Banks is the right fixture for the defense in the long term, we pretty well know he’s running low on options. I asked him what he can even do at this point to improve the defense, and he said coach harder. That’s pretty rough.

Bates was also adamant that the defense needs to figure out what’s going wrong and how to fix it.

While we’re still comparing this team to last year — and we should stop — let’s sit and acknowledge the significance of a team that feels legitimately like it can figure out the problem and actually fix it. In 2012, hopelessness and helplessness reigned. 

The offense experienced problems, sure, and starting games has been a struggle recently, but we can’t even address the offensive problems before we see a defense that’s willing to keep the offense in games.

Given that the result wasn’t in question after the game’s first 10 minutes, what do those 32 points even mean? It’s nice to see scoring, but it was out of the context of a competitive football game.

There’s no reason for this team to have jitters. It still has nothing to lose because it’s still not very good.

Beckman harped on how proud he was of this team for fighting. It’s unfortunate that it had to be hit in the mouth three times before it raised a fist. Illinois needs to not just fight after its been knocked down; it needs to be the one starting the fight.

It’s a loss and an ugly one at that. But Illinois is capable of better. It just has to get started from the opening kickoff, instead of when the game is safely out of reach.

This program is too comfortable with its own mediocrity, and as long as that’s true, there won’t be much worth fighting for.

Eliot is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @EliotTweet.