The Illinois football team was wearing the ‘Gray Ghost’ uniforms for Homecoming on Saturday and it was the Illini offense that was nowhere to be found in a 24-10 loss to Wisconsin.
Illinois (2-6, 0-5 Big Ten) had just 286 yards for the game and couldn’t manufacture any threat in the passing game to score until the final drive with the game out of reach. A common theme this season has been Illinois matching its opponent in yards, only to trail by big margins on the scoreboard.
Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0) only had 303 yards of its own, and the Illinois defense did a good job for most of the game by holding the Badgers to 3.7 yards per carry.
Cam Thomas was intercepted on the third play of the game for Illinois, and the Illini had a critical mistake on a fourth down — too many men on the field — that extended a Wisconsin drive that eventually led to the game’s first score.
Illinois tried to take back some momentum with a field goal before halftime to make the score 14-3, but the Badgers quickly zoomed down the field before the break to get a field goal of their own.
In the second half, Thomas was intercepted again, this time in Wisconsin territory, and the Badgers threw a backwards pass to the left tackle at the goal line for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
Here are a couple talking points following the Homecoming defeat:
If you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterbacks, and Illinois has no quarterbacks so that’s not good either
As expected, Jeff George Jr. got the start for Illinois, but we also saw plenty of Cam Thomas under center for the Illini.
Thomas topped 70 yards rushing for the second straight game and his ability to run the ball on designed runs, as well as scrambles, is already a bona-fide Big Ten skill. On the flip side, his passing is possibly even more raw than many anticipated.
Thomas was a dreadful 2 of 11 passing for 44 yards and two interceptions.
This sorta thing isn’t great:
You go, Joe. @joeferg5 picks Cam Thomas and ends Illinois' drive, and @BadgerFootball looks like they're putting this one away: pic.twitter.com/ILy1iwyihl— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 28, 2017
Thomas had been lucky earlier in the drive that he wasn’t intercepted on a lofted ball into double coverage.
Right now, there simply is no good option under center for Illinois. George Jr. was 7 of 20 for 108 yards and fumbled twice. People can criticize (and maybe rightly so) the two-quarterback system and when each guy is in the game, but the Illini coaches can’t feel too confident with the way both George Jr. and Thomas are throwing the ball.
Combined, Illinois quarterbacks were 9 of 31 with three turnovers and zero touchdowns. That’s a 29 percent completion rate. That’s ... not great.
The injury bug is getting a little ridiculous
Already without Mike Epstein, the Illini offense didn’t have Ra’Von Bonner or Dre Brown available Saturday. Mike Dudek left with an injury and didn’t return. Ricky Smalling went to the locker room in the third quarter.
As mentioned above, and ad nauseum pretty much every week, Illinois’ offense won’t be any good until it figures out a steady presence at quarterback, but losing your top three running backs and two of your top receivers certainly doesn’t help either.