Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is good.
His Illinois defense was dominant in the win over Indiana on Saturday, making polished senior quarterback Ben Chappell look out of sorts all afternoon.
How good has Koenning been for the Illini defense?
The Illinois run defense has gone from 76th to 23rd nationally, the passing defense is up from 100th to 35th nationally, and the Illini have improved to 20th in total defense from 91st last year.
These improvements were evident while the Illini manhandled the Hoosiers en route to earning the team’s second 30+ point win of the season, as reviewed in this week’s game recap.
With its win against Indiana, Illinois got only its second homecoming win under head coach Ron Zook.
After a tough loss at Michigan State the week before, the Hoosiers appeared to be just what the Illinois needed.
Despite the Hoosiers winning most of the stat battles, gathering more first downs, total yards, passing yards and 3rd down conversions, the Illini came away victorious.
The Illini only managed 289 yards of total offense, but still hung 43 points on Indiana thanks to a dominant defensive effort that produced 4 interceptions, 2 of which went to the house.
Bowl Game Seeming Likely
With its win, Illinois moves to 4-3 on the season.
After two seasons of underachieving and wasting talent, the Illini are tied for 5th in the Big Ten, with all of Illinois’ remaining opponents below them in the rankings.
Illinois should beat a battered Purdue squad at home next weekend and 1-7 Minnesota when they visit in November.
Those two wins would make Illinois bowl eligible.
If the Illini can get at least one road win at either Michigan, Northwestern (Wrigley), or Fresno State, the Illini could be playing in one of the Big Ten’s 3 Florida Bowls, which sounds a lot more attractive than the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit.
However, any bowl will be a welcome change for a team that was predicted to finish in the bottom two of the conference in most preseason discussions (although not Writing Illini’s).
BCS Style Points
Despite a 4-3 record, Illinois is ranked 34th in the nation in the latest BCS computer rankings.
It appears the computers are awarding the Illini for their tough start to the schedule. Illinois’ 3 losses all came to top 11 teams with a combined 23-1 record.
The Illini don’t play any more ranked opponents, but they still could move up if they keep winning.
Illinois’ Defense Hurts Leshoure
Illinois’ excellent defensive performance on Saturday likely hurt running back Mikel Leshoure’s rushing numbers.
The Illini defense was so strong that the offense usually got the ball with a very short field to work with.
Leshoure still had a respectable game, with 77 yards and a touchdown. However, it looks like he will not break Rashard Mendenhall’s record of eight 100+ rushing yard games in a season.
Final Score: Illinois 43, Indiana 13
A full recap of the game can be found on Writing Illini’s Gameday Binoculars.
Nick Houska’s Illini Game Ball
- The Illini Defense
While it is customary to award the game ball to a single player, it would be unfair to give one player the credit for the absolutely dominant defense that was played against Indiana.
With that said, the ball will go to the entire defensive squad.
Here is a list of some of the defenders who stood out on Saturday.
- Patrick Nixon-Youman and Jonathan Brown both had interceptions they returned for touchdowns. Nixon-Youman and Brown had returns of 68 and 66 yards, respectively.
- Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne both had interceptions as well. Wilson’s would have been another pick-six, but officials ruled that he stepped out of bounds at the 10. Hawthorne made a spectacular diving pick off of a tipped pass.
- Nate Bussey and Martez Wilson both had blocked punts, one of which ended up being a safety.
- Corey Liuget followed up a huge performance at Michigan State by recording another sack and getting five quarterback hurries.
- Justin Staples forced a fumble when he ripped the ball out of an Indiana running back’s hands in the backfield, and he had two more tackles for a loss.
While these players stood out, the whole defensive unit smothered the Hoosiers. They held Chappell, the Big Ten’s leader in passing yards before the game, to almost 100 yards below his average and doubled his interceptions for the season with 3 (the 4th pick came off of backup quarterback Dusty Kiel).
Here are some more impressive stats from the defense’s performance.
- Illinois has already gotten more interceptions then it did all of last season. The Illini are currently tied for 53rd in the nation with 7 picks in 2010.
- The Illinois defense scored enough points to win the game on its own. The defense scored 14 points (not counting Dimke’s two PAT’s off the pick-sixes) on 2 interceptions and a safety. Indiana only mustered 13 points.
- Those 13 points are the second fewest the Hoosiers have scored all season. They only got up 10 against Ohio State, but the Buckeyes only had 2 picks, none of which were returned for touchdowns.
Nathan Scheelhaase also had a good game. Like Leshoure, his numbers suffered from short field position, but he racked up 123 passing yards and 2 touchdowns as well as 45 rushing yards.
It was nice to see Scheelhaase bounce back following his struggles against Michigan State.
His performance earned him Freshman of the Week honors, his 3rd such honor of the year.
In a game that otherwise went very well for the Illini, the team once again hurt itself with penalties.
The Illini were penalized 7 times for 66 yards. One of the penalties, a holding call, cost the team 3 points as it negated a field goal by Derek Dimke. After losing the 10 yards, Dimke’s second kick sailed left for only his second miss of the season.
The Illini need to eliminate their sloppy play to get the two more wins needed for a bowl game.
- Nothing Stands Out
Aside from the penalty problems, the team played an excellent game on Saturday.
The coaching staff should be able to work on helping the team play a bit smarter, but other than that, everything seems to be headed in the direction that it needs to be.
Writing Illini Projection Record: 6-1 (86%)
Check back later in the week for a look at the upcoming game against the Purdue Boilermakers.
Topics: Ben Chappell, Corey Liuget, Jonathan Brown, Justin Staples, Martez Wilson, Mikel Leshoure, Nate Bussey, Nathan Scheelhaase, Patrick Nixon-Youman, Rashard Mendenhall, Ron Zook, Tavon Wilson, Terry Hawthonre, Terry Hawthorne, Vick Koenning