High expectations were dashed on Friday night when the Illinois football team was dismantled by the Kansas Jayhawks.
It wasn’t much of a game from the opening kickoff. The Illini weren’t moving the ball on offense, and our defense looked lost for much of the game. Before you could even get comfortable, Illinois managed to find themselves in a 14-point hole.
Illinois showed some glimpses of hope before halftime, driving down the field and scoring a touchdown. But the defense, once again, let us down. They allowed a Kansas touchdown in under 50 seconds. This 28-7 deficient heading into halftime seemed too much.
There was fight in the second half, as the Illini would actually beat the Jayhawks 16-6 in this time period. But we couldn’t finish off a few drives that were crucial in the comeback. Illinois ended up falling to Kansas, 34-23.
Here are five observations from the Illinois football loss to the Kansas Jayhawks
1. Illinois secondary depletion is being felt
After the 2022 season, the Illinois football team had a lot of talent go into the NFL. This talent included multiple defensive backs leaving the program for the next level.
Cornerback Devon Witherspoon was selected No. 5 overall. Jartavius Martin was picked in the second round. Sydney Brown was selected in the third round. Kendall Smith didn’t get picked, but he would go through the preseason with the Washington Commanders. Those are four big pieces to one of the best defenses in college football last season.
Illinois doesn’t have those pieces in 2023. While I thought we would struggle at times, the impact is being felt even more than I realized.
The Illinois secondary is struggling mightily. We have some okay pieces like Taz Nicholson, but it is clear that most of our defensive backs are still in the early stages of learning the speed of the college game.
There were multiple times against Kansas that the Illinois secondary looked lost. The Jayhawks would throw to wide-open pass catchers in the middle of the field. Our safeties would see a Kansas player catch the ball five or 10 yards into the defense, and then they would take a bad angle in a tackle attempt. That tackle would be unsuccessful. Illinois defensive backs wouldn’t turn around in pass coverage, which would lead to pass interference calls.
It was a truly disappointing showing by the Illinois secondary. It felt like they were ill-prepared to take on Kansas. This needs to change quickly.