After Illinois' opening win over Kent State we all said, "well, let's see if they can blowout Western next week, then we might have something here." What did the Illini do? They defeated Western Illinois 44-0. The Leatherneck defense was no match for the Lunt-Allison combination and the defense was once again spectacular.
Here are three players that caught my eye in the 44-point win:
1. Taylor Barton
Taylor Barton had possibly the best game of his career yesterday. He followed up his solid performance against Kent State (6 tackles, 1 INT) with two interceptions against Western. One was deflected by Cedric Doxy, and Barton still managed to catch it. The other he reached out and made a great play to high point and take the ball away from the receiver. Barton is now tied for the most interceptions in the country and he's also No. 9 in passes deflected. This comes after Illinois totaled just 7 interceptions as a team a year ago.
Barton's ability to take away the ball will be huge next week against North Carolina. Their quarterback, Marquese Williams, is prone to both overthrowing the ball and making bad decisions. So far the Illini corners have been solid and Barton needs to continue to make those good reads over the top and create havoc. If he's able to do that, the Orange and Blue will have a good shot to beat the Tar Heels.
2. Marchie Murdock
Marchie Murdock also had the best game of his career yesterday. He came in with two career receptions: a crucial pass on fourth down against Penn State, the other a Week 1 touchdown against Kent State. On Saturday he had 6 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. The sophomore wide out has seemed to emerge as one of Lunt's favorite targets behind Geronimo Allison with all the injuries to the wide receivers.
Murdock made some very good catches all over the field and it'd be huge if he can keep up this type of performance while Mike Dudek is out. With Justin Hardee returning next week, it'll be interesting to see what type of role Murdock will fill. Early prediction: Marchie will score a touchdown next week.
3. Chunky Clements
We heard all about the improvement of the defensive line this offseason and last week Dawuane Smoot and Rob Bain finally gave us an example of said improvement. This week, it was junior Jarrod "Chunky" Clements; he finished with two TFLs and was a force all day long.
Through two games this defense has been a lot better at stopping the run. A big part of that has been Clements and Bain getting an initial push up front. If they're able to continue that going forward, Illinois could see some success against teams they've typically struggled with in recent years (i.e. Nebraska, Iowa, and Wisconsin).
Honorable Mentions: Desmond Cain (6 catches, 29 yards), Wes Lunt (33-46 for 316 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), Geronimo Allison (8 catches, 124 yards), Clayton Fejedelem (7 tackles).