The Illinois football team is halfway through their schedule which is why I’m doing a mid-season grade for the defense.
Defensive line: C –
Coming into this season, Illinois lost a lot of its depth on the defensive line. Illinois has guys such as Roderick Perry, Kieth Randolph, Seth Coleman, and JerZhan Newton on the defensive line this year. Some of the impact players from last year are on the line this year too, like Owen Carney and Isaiah gay.
But sadly this line has been inconsistent.
The Inconsistency is the reason why I gave them a C- grade. This defensive line only has five and a half sacks on the season. They have also failed to stop the run at times as teams bully them at the line of scrimmage. Opposing teams are averaging 189.5 yards per game on the ground against the Illini, which ranks No. 89 in the nation. Illinois also has failed to put pressure on the quarterback at times.
Linebackers: B –
This linebacker corps returned most of its starters such as Milo Eifler and Jake Hansen. They have even had guys like Khalan Tolson and Tarique Barnes play well this season. The Illini linebackers have been the most impressive out of all the defensive positions for the program.
That is the reason the linebackers get a B- grade.
So far this season, all of the Illinois linebackers have combined have 3 sacks, 1 interception, and 3 forced fumbles. This linebacker corps is also leading the Illinois defense in total tackles.
The linebackers have been decent in coverage too, but they still struggle to cover in space at times. Stopping the run has also been good and bad this season. Hansen, Tolson, and Barnes have been consistent for the most part, though. These linebackers have performed well so far this season but they still can get better.
Defensive backs: D
Illinois returned the most experience at the defensive back position this season. They were expected to be impressive and a strong-point to the Illini defense. But that has not been the case as they have been nothing short of disappointing.
The defensive backs for Illinois have consistently blown coverages and gotten beat with the deep ball. Sometimes it seems like guys in the defensive backfield lose track of players and focus. They have given up huge plays every game so far.
But they have done some good too. These defensive backs have forced one fumble and four interceptions. Sadly, the bad outweighs the good which is why they have a D grade.
This Illinois football team as a whole still has a lot to prove. Their next four games against Nebraska, Ohio State, Iowa, and Northwestern will be a major test for the defense.