If Illinois Football overlooks FCS preseason #21 Youngstown State in the home opener, the final result could set a dark tone for the entire season. Just ask the Pittsburgh Panthers.
In 2012, Pitt opened the season against the Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in a game that was probably designed to set the tone for the Panthers season while showcasing the team, and their first year head coach Paul Chryst, to the country on an NFL field, but the end result was a black eye for the then Big East member.
Every FBS school that schedules a lesser viewed FCS school does so with the expectation that the season gets started off on the right foot, but sometimes those FCS schools don’t just take the paycheck and try to get through the game without any major injuries. There is nothing in the contract that says it’s an automatic win for the FBS School, and the 2012 YSU/Pitt opener is the prime example of what can happen when the FBS counterpart comes in to the game believing that simply showing up is enough for a win.
Pitt came in to that game with a dynamic running back in Ray Graham, who was returning from injury, and a senior Quarterback in Tino Sunseri, but neither player was able to fully take over the game as the Penguin defense held them to 130 rush yards and forced them in to committing 2 turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Penguin offense took care of the ball, spread out Pitt’s D, and ran wild for 204 yards on their way to a convincing 31-17 victory. They’re going to come in to Memorial Stadium and try to do the same thing to the Illini because their offensive philosophy has not changed. For their part, Illinois knows all about surrendering 200 yards to opposing rushers, as it happened multiple times a year ago. So, this game will be their first chance to come out and show the fan base that this isn’t last year’s rush defense.
The march towards the magical six win threshold begins with Youngstown St. and the Illini had better be prepared to face their ball control spread offense by showing an improved defensive front. Simply put, it’s imperative that things have changed on the defensive side of the ball for this team to truly improve enough to make that elusive first bowl game under Beckman.
As Head Coach Tim Beckman and the Illini prepare to take their first step on this 2014 journey towards the post-season neither Beckman, nor the Illini, can afford to have that journey start off on the wrong foot against a team that’s got recent history of proving that they can spoil a season before it even gets started.
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