After lightning pushed Friday's game to Saturday, it looked like the schedule change never rattled the Illini. All three phases of the Illinois football program looked to be firing on all cylinders Saturday afternoon, and we took a look at how each position's performance helped create an Illini victory.
(Ranked out of 5 Champagne Bottles)
Wes Lunt and the offense made their presence known early, moving the ball to the endzone in 5 plays to put the Illini on the board early. From there, he was able to rack up 162 yards through the air and 4 TD passes to boot. Sure, the defense gave Lunt and the offense wonderful field position all game, but their ability to cash in was satisfying. In the second half, Chayce Crouch looked a little rough around the edges. As a mobile quarterback, it will be interesting to see how he grows and adapts to Coach Cubit's offensive scheme. He was only 3 of 9 for 46 yards passing, and I would like to see some more consistency throwing the ball on first and second down.
There was no question who the starter at running back was going to be, but Illini fans wanted to see who Coach Cubit would use as a backup. Ke'Shawn Vaughn was given the nod, and he was solid. Sure he only played in the second half of the game, but an average of 3.9 yards per carry and a touchdown shows he will be called upon this season. As for Josh Ferguson, his performance on Saturday was as good as I expected it to be. With 6.3 yards per carry and a couple touchdowns on the ground and in the air, Ferguson lived up to his expectations in the season opener. To earn the final bottle, I would LOVE to see Josh run for 100+ yards in a game, but I can't complain with 134 across the board.
With Mike Dudek out of the lineup in the beginning on the season, the opportunity was there on Saturday to set into the go-to receiver role for many different players. When the game was over, we ended up with Geronimo Allison, Marchie Murdock, and Sam Mays. While the receiving corps was able to help Wes Lunt throw for 164 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half, there we way too many drops on first and second down. That will need to improve before the North Carolina game.
It was refreshing to see Tyler White being integrated into the pass offense during the first series of the game. With the absence of Dudek, White could be a key target in the passing offense over the middle of the field for Lunt. It's also nice to have a 6'5" receiver in your arsenal.
Lunt was only sacked once and the run game was able to generate over 100 yards of offense. For an offensive line that's trying to prove themselves after a rough season last year, this game was a great start. Sure it's only Kent State, but the offensive line deserves credit for executing in their first game this season.
Again, I understand this was Kent State...but anytime you can hold your opponents to 59 yards rushing, your defense is on point. Nowhere was that more evident than Saturday afternoon where the Illini opened the game with a tackle for loss, followed by a sack (the only one of the game). Throw in some added pressure on Kent State's quarterback, and the line had a great day.
Colin Reardon had a tough time throwing the ball over the middle of the field, and the run game was never able to establish itself. Mason Monheim and the linebackers did a great job all game containing the pass game, and even intercepting one. Would maybe like to see Coach Banks bring some different blitz packages in the future, but his defense and the linebackers seemed to be a step ahead all game long.
Taylor Barton and Eaton Spence intercepted a pass each, and the Flashes were only able to complete 19 of 40 passes. Only blemish on the day for the secondary was a 58 yard pass that set up Kent State in the red zone late in the second quarter. Other than that, the big plays were limited and turnovers were generated. Can't complain with a day like that.
Taylor Zalewski was perfect, V'Angelo Bentley had 110 return yards, and Rob Bain preserved the first-half shutout by blocking a field goal to end the 2nd Quarter. Ryan Frain had a pretty good day punting the football, but I would like to see him improve his 39.4 yard average as the year goes on.
This was SO close to being 5 bottles, but the team was penalized too many times. Aside from some early season sloppiness, the coaching staff had the Illini ready to play Saturday. Bill Cubit did a wonderful job sticking to an offensive game plan that got the ball out of Wes Lunt's hands quickly, and was well distributed around the field to many different receivers. As for Tim Banks' defense, they were ready from the opening possession. I'm sure not having a co-defensive coordinator calling plays helps your confidence and decision making throughout a game. If the defense can continue to be this dominant throughout the season, we may be looking at a 7+ win season.