Illinois Football: Winning the turnover battle has been huge for the Illini

Everyone is starting to buy into the fact that the Illinois football team has a bright future.

There was an ugly period of time last season and earlier this season where some fans wanted to clean house. That notion has changed as Illinois has rambled off two-straight wins and now has a bowl berth in the crosshairs. But what has been the big change for the Illini? There is an easy answer to this question; the turnover battle.

One of Lovie Smith’s signatures is his turnover friendly defense. He has always taught turnovers since becoming a coach. I remember how well the Chicago Bears could force fumbles when Lovie was leading that team. That has transferred over to the college ranks.

In the four wins for the Illini this season, we have either tied or had more takeaways than the opposing team. Illinois had one takeaway against Akron to their zero. The Illini tied three-three against UConn. We had three takeaways compared to Wisconsin’s one. And we had two takeaways to Purdue’s zero. Those are huge reasons we won those four games.

Let’s take a look at the losses. There was only one game this Illinois team was out of this season. We were soundly beaten by Minnesota, but that game was one possession at halftime. Illinois lost that game because of the lack of offensive production. But we were competitive for a while because of turnovers.

Illinois ended up losing to Eastern Michigan by a field goal. We lost the turnover battle in that game as the Eagles forced two turnovers compared to Illinois only having one takeaway. If we could have tied that game in turnovers, we would have probably come away with a win.

We tied Michigan in turnovers two-two. The Illini had two huge takeaways that enabled them to give the Wolverines a scare. The two turnovers Illinois had in that game came in the final two drives that our quarterback fumbled away. The other loss out of the four this season was against Nebraska. We won the turnover battle there, four-one, but we also just blew that game with a bad defensive performance.

Overall, though, I think it is clear that turnovers have been a huge difference for this Illinois program. We witnessed a huge turnover against Wisconsin that enabled us to kick a game-winning field goal. A pick-six against Purdue launched the Orange and Blue into a big win on Saturday. Turnovers have been a huge reason why this season is turning around.