In twelve games last season, the Illini looked competitive in three and won two of them. In four games this year, we've looked competitive in all of them and won three. The improvement is clear; we're going to beat the teams we're supposed to and lose to top-25 teams. And I'm totally OK with that. Before we delve into the specifics of the game, let it be known that Miami of Ohio University is simply terrible. Awful. They're 0-4 with a 40-pt loss to Marshall thrown in there as well. They just don't look like a competent football team at all. Not too much to over-analyze here. It's the Miami RedHawks. If you are a football team with 11 living, breathing humans on the field you can expect to beat them. That being said, Illinois looked pretty damn good on Saturday. Not too much to complain about here either. And so for the first time in my days as an enthusiast and FanPost-er for TCR, I had more trouble thinking up three negatives than I did dreaming up some positives.
1. We did not punt once in this game. Not once. Justin DuVernois never made an appearance because the offense simply didn't allow him to. I don't know when the last time Illinois didn't have to punt once in a game was, but it sure as hell wasn't anytime recently.
2. Speaking of proficient offense, Illinois' was just that: proficient. If Bill Cubit were running for mayor of the city, I'm pretty sure he'd win. His system and the way it is being implemented into this offense is looking great. Scheelhaase looked good once again, and it is definitely fair to say that his career has been revived under Cubit. The ball is being spread all over the field; today it was the TE's day to shine, as Matt LaCosse, Evan Wilson, and Jon Davis accounted for four scores in the blowout victory. All three QB's got a chance to play, though Nathan was only taken out once the lead was large and safe enough. The consistency and efficiency of this offense in this system with these players has me feeling great about their chances at competing every Saturday on the offensive side of the ball. And when's the last time we've felt that kind of security about our offense? Again, it's probably been a long time.
3. To expand on the offensive success from Saturday, the running game looked fantastic, especially Josh Ferguson. He continually turns plays that look like they're going to get blown up into positive gains and looks good doing it. Those stutter-step jukes he's got had me laughing in awe. He's definitely a dynamic play-maker and a deceptive and athletic running back. That 1-2 punch of Young-then-Ferguson might have to be flipped going into the Nebraska game; I think Josh has earned it.
1. The defense was definitely not stellar today. Yes, it held the RedHawks to only 14 points, seven of which they didn't even deserve, but letting them run rampant with the read option was not that encouraging to see. The defense didn't force any interceptions, fumbles, or sacks. Zero sacks against that Miami offensive line tells us a lot more about how bad our d-line might be than how strong and amazing the RedHawks' o-line is. There were once again many tackles missed, and they looked straight-up bad against that pesky read-option system at times. Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim continued to look strong, and the emergence of Dunlap is promising, but what isn't is the consistent struggle to pressure the QB and the fundamental issue of mis-tackling.
2. I'm being picky here because, well, there wasn't that much to complain about from this game, but the kicking unit was underwhelming. Yes, it was windy, but Zalewski was replaced by Frain for the second half and missed a relatively short-range FG when he was in the game. And it's the second straight week he's struggled. Again, being nit-picky here.
3. Aaron Bailey got little-to-no playing time over O'Toole and shouldn't be considered QB3. Yes, he came in marginally throughout the game in third-down situations and did manage to orchestrate the final drive of the game, but it wasn't reassuring to watch Reily take all the second-string snaps over Bailey. I think AB has a lot more talent than O'Toole does, and Reily doesn't factor in to the long-term plans here like Aaron does. If something were to happen to Scheelhaase (god forbid), I would like to see AB become the QB over O'Toole.
Prediction Revisited: The caveat of all of this is that Miami is a terrible football squad, but I'm not going to throw cold water on the Illini and their 3-1 start to the season, which is already a major improvement to last year already. I said 48-13, it ended up being 50-14. Not bad...
Prediction in Advance: I actually have some optimism heading into next week's game against the Cornhuskers, something I never thought I'd say two months ago. Their defense hasn't exactly been the blackshirts we've come to know, but their offense is still a very dangerous one. I see a shoot-out. I'll be a homer here and go with Illinois 49, Nebraska 45.
So what say you? Drop by below to vote and comment!