The first game of the Lovie Smith era is in the books, and it's a 52-3 rout of the Murray State Racers. The Fighting Illini defense held tough and Wes Lunt was efficient in limited action as the biggest crowd for a home opener in Champaign left quite satisfied today.
Admittedly, this FCS Murray State team, coming off a 3-8 campaign, is probably the worst team to visit Memorial Stadium since Charleston Southern in 2012, but there's little to criticize about a 52-3 win. So what did we learn today?
1. This defensive line is good
Though Dawaune Smoot was whistled for three separate penalties today, the defensive front four overwhelmed the Racers to the tune of a -10 rushing yard performance on the day. Chunky Clements and company were in the backfield more often than not.
2. There's more depth at RB than we think
The Fighting Illini ran for 287 yards on 40 carries. Ke'Shawn Vaughn was held to 49 yards on 17 carries, but Kendrick Foster (who had at one point indicated his intent to transfer) chipped in two 56-yard touchdown runs and Reggie Corbin had a touchdown on 7 carries for 71 yards. The departure of Josh Ferguson and the injury to Dre Brown thinned the depth chart at this position, but it may be survivable
3. Lovie Smith has been well-received
The official attendance today was announced at over 48,000, and after the second Illini interception of the first quarter, the crowd burst into a very audible "Lovie! Lovie! Lovie!" chant. Furthermore, at halftime, this happened:
I think it's safe to say that there's a buzz in Champaign that's not been felt in at least five years.
4. Murray State is not very good
There's no way to sugarcoat it. This was an FCS team coming off a 3-8 season, and their offensive line simply couldn't keep up. Garbage time came early, and ten different receivers had catches. Murray State is on a level much lower than that of any other team we'll play this year. As a result, everything imperfect was jarring. Tackling difficulties and struggles running the ball in early downs with Vaughn were concerning, but outside of assuming the worst about mistakes, there was little to learn in this game since the Illini staff is likely saving much of the playbook for the North Carolina Tarheels next week
5. Northwestern has no wins this year (Western Michigan could be trouble)
Just before we kicked off, the Northwestern Wildcats lost at home to P.J. Fleck's Western Michigan Broncos courtesy of a questionable touchback call in the closing stages of the game. Northwestern's offense was anemic and plodding as usual, but Western Michigan was able to take advantage of it. Though the 'Cats held FBS' all-time leading receiver, Corey Davis, to 70 yards on 7 receptions, Western was efficient on their many fourth down attempts. Thank goodness we managed to buy our way out of a road game for this MACrifice matchup.