Defense, defense, defense. This appears to be the new face of Illinois football. Although it wasn’t great against Ball State, they still forced turnovers and showed flashes of what was possible. Well, if Ball State was a teaser trailer, WKU was the feature-length film.
Going into this game I mentioned that the Illini have to get better on third down, and they certainly did that. This defense came out and set the tone. Defense is always a point of emphasis for Lovie Smith, and it appears he has the making of an elite one. Will it struggle this year? Sure, this is a young team, but the pieces are there.
The defense also produced some offense. After punting the ball away from the WKU 36, the Illini then forced a pick-six and went up 13-0. This here is “Lovie Ball.” The staff relied on its defense, and it paid off. It worked. This was only the start.
Offensively, the Illini were…meh. Chayse Crouch can’t throw a football, yet the staff keeps coming back to it. Mike Epstein has been great, and even Ra’Von Bonner got some carries on Saturday night. For the Illini to have greater success on Friday night against a ranked USF team, they should use the quarterback option a little bit more with Crouch. It worked all night, and it should be a cornerstone of this offense.
Overall, this game was fantastic. The defense was tenacious, but the offense left a little to be desired. Let’s hope the offense gets cleaned up and ready to rock on Friday.
The Illini will play USF on Friday night on ESPN at 6/5 CT.