The Illinois football team started to move the ball against Toledo in the second half.
I think the Illinois offense has a chance to have a big game against a below-average Kansas defensive unit. This Jayhawks defense has struggled mightily over the last couple of years, and I don’t expect that to change.
Here is what the Illinois football team will face, as these are the pregame grades of the Kansas Jayhawks defense
- Defensive Line – Overall D-
In week one, the Kansas defensive line looked good. They shut down Missouri State’s running attack, and this enabled the Jayhawks to drop back and pick a couple of passes off.
The Bears finished the Kansas game with 27 rushes for 74 yards and a touchdown. That is 2.7 yards per carry, which is an awful number. On paper, this looks like a good defensive line for Kansas. Don’t let a cupcake game fool you, though.
Kansas does not have a good defensive line. Most of the starting defensive line played in 2022, but they mostly saw backup snaps. It’s not like they returned a ton of starting experience.
On top of that, last season, Kansas had one of the worst rush defenses in the country. They gave up 218.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranked No. 125 out of 131 college football teams.
Don’t be surprised if Illinois has tremendous success running the football on Friday night. This is a weak Kansas defensive line that the Illini can take advantage of.
- Linebackers – Overall B
Kansas did return some important pieces in the middle of the defense. Their linebacker corps has some talent.
Rich Miller is back, and he had 94 tackles last season, which was No. 2 on the team. Their Hawk position is filled by Craig Young. He was a big player for the Jayhawks last season, as he had 60 tackles and 4.5 sacks, which was third and second on the team, respectively.
Illinois offensive tackles will have their hands full with the Kansas linebackers. I imagine Young is going to be coming on a few blitzes throughout the game. We are going to need to be ready for this to happen.
I actually think the Jayhawks have a solid linebacker unit. They aren’t missing a lot from 2022, and some of their best defensive players are at this level of the defense.
- Defensive Backs – Overall D+
Much like all smaller teams who are trying to build a program from the ground up, there are a few talented players and then the rest are below average.
I think that is the case with the Kansas secondary. The Jayhawks have a really good player in Cobee Bryant, but then the talent drop-off is steep.
Bryant enters the 2023 campaign on the preseason All-Big 12 First Team. He is the heart and soul of that Kansas secondary. But this is also a secondary that struggled greatly in 2022.
Kansas gave up 273.8 yards per game through the air last season. This was bad enough to rank No. 117 in the country. So, both the rush and pass defense are in the bottom 15 in the nation. That is not good for them.
Bryant is going to be tasked with taking on one of Illinois’ best wide receivers, but we have multiple pass catchers who can dominate. This could be a long day for the Kansas defense.