The Bill Cubit era in Champaign is off to a great start. Following the postponement of Friday night's game, the Illinois Fighting Illini dominated the Kent State Golden Flashes 52-3 on Saturday to secure their first victory of the 2015 season. Wes Lunt led the way with 162 yards and 4 touchdowns (to four different receivers) on 11/19 passing. Josh Ferguson also had a nice day on the ground with 76 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
Here are our main takeaways from Illinois' season opener against Kent State:
1. The Illinois defense has improved
Going up against a lower-tier MAC team may not be the best way to judge a unit's ability, but the Illini defense -- particularly the defensive line -- has clearly improved. The front nine was exploding off the ball and causing havoc in the opposing backfield for seemingly the entire game. That backfield pressure resulted in several erred throws from Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon and the linebackers/secondary took advantage by notching three interceptions.
This defense, at least early on, appears to be more opportunistic and athletic than the unit we saw in 2014. We'll have to see how they perform against better competition, but that combination will allow them to dominate smaller teams.
2. Wes Lunt, offense have big-play capabilities
The Fighting Illini offense was in mid-season form on Saturday and the unit's big-play ability may have been the story of the day. The offensive weapons were on display throughout the first half as Lunt was frequently connecting with Geronimo Allison, Marchie Murdock, and Malik Turner on deep throws. If the junior quarterback can stay healthy all year, Illinois could have one of the most effective and exciting offenses in the Big Ten.
3. This is the deepest Illinois team in years
When was the last time that Illinois had such a deep depth chart?
The second-string defense was rotating in throughout the first half and they performed up to standards; linebackers Henry McGrew and LaKeith Walls were two players in particular that came in and played very well. The offensive replacements weren't too bad, either. Backup quarterback Chayce Crouch looked shaky at times, but he orchestrated a few second half scoring drives of his own.
Say what you want about Tim Beckman, but he did a very good job of re-building this roster up from the ashes of Ron Zook's tenure.