The Illinois football team has displayed some of the best defense I have seen in years.
A start of 3-1 has the Illini in a good position to make a push for a bowl game. This start has also put head coach Bret Bielema at 8-8 through his first 16 games, which makes him one of the most successful Illinois coaches in the history of the program.
Bielema has made some good moves since taking over in Champaign, but I would argue his best move was hiring defensive coordinator, Ryan Walters.
Walters has completely changed the look and feel of the Illinois defense. We went from getting shredded against teams to being one of the best defensive units in the country.
Defensive lineman Johnny Newton has been one of the big beneficiaries to the coaching change. He has really blossomed in the middle of the defensive line and is one of the main reasons Illinois is only giving up 94.3 yards per game on the ground, which ranks No. 16 in the country.
Johnny Newton is more than just a run-stopper for the Illinois football team.
I love that Newton has helped the Illini become a team that shuts down running backs. That is going to help a lot this weekend when we head up to Wisconsin to take on the Badgers and Braelon Allen. He is one of the best running backs in the country, so this will be a true test of where Illinois is as a program.
Newton isn’t just a talented run-stopper, though. He is a complete defensive lineman who can eat up anyone on the offensive side of the ball.
On Friday morning, Pro Football Focus College tweeted out the leaders in quarterback pressures through the first four weeks of the college football season. Who was No. 1 on this list?
Leaders in QB pressures through four weeks this season💪 pic.twitter.com/a5kUr3sgvL
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 30, 2022
Newton has 22 quarterback pressures through four games. That is three more pressures than No. 2 on the list, who is Tyree Wilson with 19 quarterback pressures.
Illinois’ run defense is impressive because of Newton, but his ability to get to the quarterback is also why our pass defense is sensational. The Illini are currently giving up 180.0 yards per game through the air, which ranks No. 21 in the nation.
The elevated Illini defense is something to keep an eye on. I would like to call this the Newton Effect. He is such a menace for opposing offenses that he disrupts every aspect of their game plan. This kid is impressive.