Remember how terrible last season was? If you don't, I envy your retrograde amnesia. The rest of us are forced to live with the memories of a 2-10 season and a first year coach sitting on the hot seat. But now? The 2013 Illinois Fighting Illini already have three wins and one loss to a top 25 opponent. The offense is clicking and Tim Beckman has removed himself from the hot seat.
The Miami (OH) Redhawks are one of the worst teams on the FBS level this year. That being said, the Illini played like you want your team to play against that kind of opponent: efficiently, brutally, and never leaving the game in doubt.
Nate Scheelhaase had one of the finest games of his career, going 19-24 for 279 yards and five touchdowns, none of which were caught by a wide receiver. He's bought completely into OC/shaman Bill Cubit's system and it's working wonders for him. He's 198 passing yards away from last season's total and has already thrown three times as many touchdowns. The team needs him firing on all cylinders when conference play starts and it's looking like that's a distinct possibility.
- We've already kind of talked about it, but this offense is really getting everyone involved and I love it. Twelve different players caught a pass. Twelve! When you're getting everyone touches it becomes a lot harder for other teams to gameplan for your passing attack. Holes start opening up and you can gouge away. Especially when you have tight ends the size of draft horses (love you Matt LaCosse and Evan Wilson).
- For the first time this season, I can actually place the running game in the positive category. This makes me very happy. Even when the team has been crappy, Illinois has managed to churn out NFL quality running backs and that's something you can sell teenagers on. Four players had at least six carries and the lowest average belongs to RS freshman Devin Church with 5.6. Donovonn Young averaged 7.3, Josh Ferguson 8.9, and Aaron Bailey 9.3. It's like we're multifaceted! Oh yeah, and Aaron Bailey was finally allowed to throw passes.
- Tim Beckman looked happy and comfortable on the sideline, which I will never tire of. He also showed a cutthroat attitude to start the game, going for two early and calling for an onside kick immediately after. When his bloodlust was finally sated in the fourth, he called for the victory formation despite being in the red zone with the Bailer.
- Not everything was sunshine and rainbows though, as there was some questionable play-calling. Cubit will have the benefit of the doubt all season, but it doesn't really make any sense to call multiple trick plays in the first half against a team that can't even stop your base offense. Save the magic for when we might actually need it.
- The tackling improved by the fourth quarter, but it's going to be a major issue all season. Other than Jonathan Brown and Mason Monheim, no one on the defense does a very good job of wrapping up and not biting on jukes. It's going to burn the defense soon enough, especially against teams with running quarterbacks. You know, like the one we play next Saturday.
- Reilly O'Toole officially reminds me of Tim Brasic. Brasic was the QB who had the misfortune of finally getting his chance to shine only to lose it to a freshman scrambler with a rocket arm. Next season was looking like O'Toole's reward for sticking with the team through years of not playing. But when he gets his chances, things just kind of fall apart. I wouldn't be shocked if today was the last time we saw Reilly come in as the primary backup.
- This defensive line is all kinds of awful. Miami rushed for 152 yards today, which doesn't sound like much, but context means everything. Cincinnati held that same Miami offense to seven rushing yards last week. Kentucky held them to 99 yards. Marshall held them to 57. I know Miami only attempted 15 passes, but zero sacks against a terrible MAC team is unacceptable. This is our weak point.
- Other than that, the only other ugly thing was a questionable touchdown call by the refs. Miami was down 43-0 in the 3rd when Austin Boucher tossed up a pass to Rokeem Williams. Williams touched the ball before Jaylen Dunlap came flying in to smack the ball to the ground. Williams never had control. Yet the refs still gave the Redhawks the points. Oh well.