Grading the Illinois Football team after its win over Murray State


Austin Yattoni

Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt (12) looks to pass the ball during the game against Murray State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 3. The Illini won 52-3.

By The Daily Illini Sports Staff

The Daily Illini football writers graded each facet of the Illinois football team’s 52-3 win over Murray State on Saturday. The Illini offense, defense, special teams and coaching were graded.

Offense: B

The Illini scored 52 points Saturday to beat the Racers. Illini quarterback Wes Lunt dissected the Racer defense early, throwing for 226 yards and three touchdowns before he was pulled in the third quarter. A good chunk of those passing yards came on a 68 yard touchdown pass to Malik Turner — a career long for both players.

But this Murray State team wasn’t known for their defense entering the game, and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s struggles were more concerning than Wes Lunt’s successes were pleasing. Vaughn was handed the ball 17 times but only ran for 49 yards. Vaughn is a focal point for this Illini offense, and the fact that he was not able to find any holes on Saturday should raise concerns for the Illini staff, especially since his backup Kendrick Foster was able to bust out two 56-yard touchdown runs in the game.

Foster’s play should not be overlooked. His 118 rushing yards led the team, and his two touchdowns stretched the Illini lead even further before half time. If Vaughn had been able to average a few more yards per carry, it would’ve been a picture perfect start to the season for the Illini offense.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Defense: A

Entering Saturday’s game, KD Humphries was the active leader for most yards per game with 262.2. The Illini held Humphries to 152 yards, which includes his -12 rushing yards.

But Humphries wasn’t the only Murray State player getting stopped behind the line of scrimmage. The Illini defensive line destroyed the Racer’s all day, holding their opponents to -10 rushing yards. Linebacker Hardy Nickerson played up to expectations in his Illini debut. The graduate transfer led the Illini with 11 total tackles — eight of which were solo. Defensive end Dawuane Smoot had a rough game, recording one tackle and picking up three penalties for the Illini. The Illini sacked Racers’ quarterbacks six times on the day.

The real surprise though was the secondary. Strong safety Julian Hylton and free safety Taylor Barton recorded back to back picks for the Illini on the Racers’ first two drives of the game. They also kept Murray State from pulling off any big plays. The Racers only had one drive go for more than 50 yards.

Special teams: A-

If it weren’t for a block in the back, Illini punt Darius Mosely would have ran a punt back over 60 yards for a touchdown. But even without, the Illini special teams had a solid game. There was nothing flashy that counted, but Murray State did not have any huge kick returns all day. Illini punter Ryan Frain averaged 43.0 yards per punt. Overall, it was a solid but uneventful day for the Illini special teams.

Coaching: A

Lovie Smith has officially coached a game as head coach of Illinois football. This is real. His defensive philosophy seemed to work, with the Illini’s three takeaways putting the offense in a good position each time. Garrick McGee’s offense seemed to be clicking, and if Ke’Shawn would’ve played better, it would’ve looked great. There is the expression, keep your timeouts in your back pocket, and Smith seemed to use that as a code to live by for this game. He did not use any of his first half timeouts until there was a minute left in the second quarter. They also played a lot of the true freshman, and pretty much everybody saw time on the field for the Illini.

[email protected]