In yesterday’s press conference, Illinois Football Head Coach Tim Beckman mentioned a key objective for the Illini this weekend that probably should be considered a key objective for the entire season. He wants the Illini to “Start Fast”.
Beckman brought this idea up at the end of last season when the Illini were trying to put together a winning formula in the B1G portion of the schedule, but honestly, try as they might, the Illini were unable to get their foot on to the accelerator early and often in their games.
Last season, Illinois scored a combined 41 total points in the first quarter covering 12 games, and 14 of those 41 points came in the game against Indiana. For comparison, their 12 opponents combined to score a total of 108 points, which includes the 14 points that Indiana provided as an answer to Illinois’ highest first quarter output of the season.
Starting fast is very important, but starting fast isn’t just about hanging tons of points in the first quarter. Starting fast can also apply to the defense getting off the field just as quickly as they get on it. Three and outs are very important, and it’s time for them to start happening with a little more regularity this season not only in the first quarter, but throughout the entirety of the game.
If fans are going to truly buy in to the prospects of a .500 or better season, it’s going to happen when the defense bows up and shows that this isn’t last year’s defense. To be fair, the defense actually posted 4 first quarter shutouts a year ago and 2 games where they only allowed 7 first quarter points each. The problem, however, is that they surrendered 38 points combined in the second quarter in 4 of those 6 games.
As for the offense, starting fast should be a given. Every offense in the country should head into their respective games with the idea of hanging 6 on every drive, and Illinois should be no different. The expectations for Bill Cubit’s offense are somewhat justified based off what we saw a year ago, but those lofty expectations should also be tempered to an extent.
While it’s true that the Illini have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, some of it, including the quarterback, is unproven. I’m not saying they won’t be explosive. In fact, I believe that they will be, but I am also not so naïve to believe that there won’t be some growing pains during the early portion of the schedule as all of those weapons establish their roles in game situations.
All of that said, the key objective for this season is clear. As we’ve seen historically, having one side of the ball start fast isn’t enough. Illinois must consistently start fast on both sides of the ball and force their opponents to play from behind. If they can do that, bowl eligibility will be just around the corner.