Illinois Football: 5 stats that show why the Illini are ranked in the AP Top 25

Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz (5) is sacked by Illinois linebacker Ezekiel Holmes (33) on Saturday, October 1, 2022, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinUsat Wisconsin Vs Illinois Football 100122 660 Ttm
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz (5) is sacked by Illinois linebacker Ezekiel Holmes (33) on Saturday, October 1, 2022, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-WisconsinUsat Wisconsin Vs Illinois Football 100122 660 Ttm /
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CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 08: Kenenna Odeluga #39 of the Illinois Fighting Illini celebrates after a play during the second half in the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Memorial Stadium on October 08, 2022 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

3. 9.6 points

This is a different Illinois football team than we have seen in the past. The Illini are playing well as a team, but there has been one clear leader of this program, and that is the defense.

Illinois’ defense, led by defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, is doing some special things this season. They are the sole reason we are 5-1 and ranked No. 24 in the nation. We wouldn’t be winning like this if it wasn’t for the defense bailing us out on many different occasions.

Let’s just go back to the Iowa game on Saturday. Illinois turned the ball over three times. This enabled Iowa to start at the Illinois 35-yard line and the Illinois 5-yard line on back-to-back drives. Those two drives ended with six plays, -10 yards, and three points.

If this was Illinois’ defense circa 2020 or earlier, Iowa is probably scoring at least 10 points during those two drives. That would have put the Illini behind the eight ball, and we wouldn’t have recovered.

But the Illinois defense stepped up in a big way against the Hawkeyes. They have been doing that all season as well.

As of this moment, the Illini are giving up 9.6 points per game this season, which ranks No. 2 in the country. The only team ahead of Illinois is Minnesota, who is giving up 8.5 points per game. We play the Golden Gophers this week.

I never thought Illinois’ defense would be this good this quick. Walters has done an amazing job. The Illinois coaching staff knows the personnel they have and they play to their strengths. Think back to 2018. Illinois was giving up 41.7 points per game and ranked No. 126 in the country. Now we have one of the best defenses in all of football.