Takeaways from a shutout weekend

By Peter Bailey-Wells

It’s been another week of Illinois football, and the Illini have another win — so far, so good for Bill Cubit’s bunch.

But things are done being easy. At least until the Illini return to Memorial Stadium on Sept. 26 to face the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

North Carolina is better than Kent State and Western Illinois. That much is clear. What isn’t quite clear is whether the Illini are a favorite or an underdog against the Tar Heels.

But there are a few things from Saturday’s 44-0 win over the Leathernecks that might indicate that the Illini are heading into a game they stand a chance at winning.

First, they have more than one NFL prospect in that offensive huddle. In addition to Wes Lunt, Geronimo Allison appears to be the real deal.

A few of the big uglies — a phrase of endearment that my high school football coach used extensively — on the offensive line have kept Wes Lunt’s jersey clean through two games. Christian DiLauro is the one who has prompted the most attention prospect-wise, but if those guys keep up the protection, things are looking up for Illinois.

Sidenote in relation to jerseys: Why do a white-out if your team is going to wear blue? The new blue Illinois jerseys looked really good, but the program called for fans to wear white to the game and not many did. It was just confusing.

Anyway, the boys up front cleared the way for Lunt and that bodes well for the team. Second, the defense is so much better than last year’s edition. After the game, Mason Monheim praised the entire defense for posting the shutout — the first since the senior captain arrived in Champaign — and even though it was against Western Illinois, their confidence must be through the roof.

The d-line is a big piece of that. We’ll see how well it stands up to Power Five-sized bodies next weekend, but up to this point, it’s been a strong group.

Third, Cubit seems to have his guy’s backs. Maybe it’s just the projection of that, but he dropped one of his best pieces of football knowledge — even though it’s pretty basic — postgame Saturday.

“Guys don’t fumble on purpose.”

Seems obvious, but some coaches take fumbling as a cardinal sin that deserves a seat on the bench for the rest of eternity. Ke’Shawn Vaughn fumbled in the third quarter, and was back in the game shortly afterward. The freshman obviously didn’t fumble the ball on purpose, so why punish him for it? If someone is a serial fumbler, they shouldn’t be on the field, but these are college football players: They know fumbling is a bad thing.

Seems simple, but it has always bothered me when coaches bench people for fumbling unless that player’s replacement is light years better. Cubit seems like he understands that.

So who knows how next week will be? The Illini should play better than they did against Washington in last year’s most significant non-conference tilt. But who knows? By the end of this practice week, we might know more, especially with regard to injuries and substitutes.

Two more things that need to be said: Tight end Tim Clary got injured Saturday — he was wearing a sling on his left arm postgame — and that might be more significant than people realize.

The former walk-on lines up as the fullback in a lot of the Illini’s two-back sets and is an important blocker in a run game that’s already uninspiring. He’s also a popular guy — he’s Wes Lunt’s roommate — and the quarterback looked pretty sad about his buddy’s injury after the game. That’s potentially a tough loss for Illinois.

My very final thought is a bit out of nowhere: Illinois’ Week One opponent, Kent State, has a female kicker, April Goss, who booted an extra point in the Golden Flashes’ win over Delaware State on Saturday — that’s cool.

She’s the only woman on a Division I roster and the second woman to score in a major college football game. Kudos to her.

Peter is a junior in Media.
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