The Illinois Football team started the season off with a 28-17 victory over Youngstown State this past Saturday, and we learned a few things about this year’s version of the Illini along the way.
Without any further ado, here are three things that caught my eye from my seat in section 115 during the home opener.
1. The Offensive Line has work to do in the rush game.
The Illini gained 78 yards on 22 carries against an FCS team. The by-product of that less than stellar rushing performance? The Illini only held the ball for 19 minutes and 59 seconds. As we all know, that’s just not good enough to get it done once the Illini begin playing a higher level of competition. Now that the problems with the rush blocking are on tape, it’s time for new offensive line coach Tom Brattan to get busy fixing them.
On a positive note, the offensive line only allowed 1 sack, and Wes Lunt emerged from this one healthy with four TD passes against zero interceptions.
2. Donovonn Young looked like he’s ready to contribute.
DY5 was running with purpose against the Penguins, and he made the most of his opportunities while finishing the game with 39 yards on 9 carries. No, it wasn’t a record breaking performance by any means, but on a day when Illinois couldn’t get much going in the run game Young’s back to back carries covering 29 yards in the 4th quarter were a huge step towards the game icing touchdown pass from Lunt to Martize Barr.
Last year, Young danced and fumbled his way towards near obscurity. This year he seems poised to re-emerge as another key cog in the Illini offensive machine.
3. The defensive line is no pushover.
The Illinois defense was on the field for 40 minutes and 1 second. They faced 59 rushing attempts. A year ago, that would’ve surely spelled disaster. In this game, however, all it ended up meaning was a paltry 3.4 ypc average, 1 rushing touchdown, and 3 field goals for the Penguin offense. It’s not a finished product by any stretch of the imagination, but it appears to be headed in the right direction.
Next up is WKU’s pass happy attack, and we’ll get to see how much the defensive backs have improved from a year ago. It’s setting up to be a shootout at Memorial Stadium. Hope to see you all there.