Grading Illinois’ 35-24 loss to Rutgers

Editor’s note: The Daily Illini football writers graded each facet of the Illinois football team’s 35-24 loss to Rutgers on Saturday. The Illini coaching, offense, defense and special teams were graded.

Coaching: F

Lovie Smith said it himself in the press conference. Everyone needs to be better, from the coaches on down. Rutgers won two games last season and came into today with four losses. The Scarlet Knights are a bad team, and they embarrassed the Illini at home. That can’t happen. Illinois is in the middle of a rebuilding period, but fans expected more out of a team that showed glimpses of competency last week against Iowa. The Illini were unable to make adjustments after getting down early and never really felt like they were in the game at all. The coaching staff has plenty to prove in the next game against Minnesota. They can’t let their players come out flat again.

Offense: F

Don’t think because the offense scored 24 points it had a good day. It had quite the opposite. Illinois could not sustain a drive longer than five minutes. Quarterback Jeff George Jr. threw two more interceptions, giving him five in the past two weeks. His final statline is a bit misleading; two touchdowns were in garbage time. The running game also had difficulties, with Ra’Von Bonner struggling to find any holes through the defensive line. A week after the offensive line had one of its greatest performances of the season, the unit underperformed this week. George Jr. was pressured at times, and running backs struggled to find room. The deficit just didn’t seem within reach with the offense on the field.

Defense: D-

It was a bad week for the Illinois front seven. Rutgers ran for 274 yards on the day, having no trouble creating gaps and moving the chains. There were missed tackles all over the defense, but the linebacking corps particularly struggled to bring down any of the five runners the Scarlet Knights utilized. All five of the players that carried the ball at least five times for Rutgers averaged over four yards-per-carry. The Illini defensive line also failed to create pressure on Rutgers quarterback Giovanni Rescigno, sacking him just once. The line often let him escape the pocket to extend plays. The secondary wasn’t tested much, with the Scarlet Knights only dropping back to pass 12 times. But as a whole, the defense, like the rest of the Illini, struggled mightily.

Special teams: D+

Our staff is still wondering what in the world Carmoni Green was thinking during his muffed punt return. Diving at the ball on a bouncing punt was one of the strangest things fans will see on a field. It’s a learning experience, but Green needs to be smarter than that. Kicker Chase McLaughlin missed his first field goal attempt of the day when he knocked a 54-yarder off the left upright. He converted a 40-yarder and all of his extra points. Punter Blake Hayes found himself on the field often and had another good day. He’s been great at flipping the field for opponents to take over. Aside from a Nate Hobbs’ return to the Illini 30-yard line, Illinois did not get much production from the return game.