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Illinois player of the game: Chase McLaughlin

The junior is quietly one of the best kickers in program history

Illinois v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

During times of rebuilding, as a fan you look for little rays of hope to signal brighter times ahead (believe me, I have a lot of practice with this after watching the Chicago Bears, Bulls, White Sox, Illinois football, Illinois basketball — good lord, every team I root for is just terrible right now).

One aspect of the game that isn’t sexy but will help you win a lot of games is kicking, and Illinois has a very reliable option in the right foot of junior Chase McLauglin. He made all three of his field goals and an extra point in the Illini’s 45-16 loss to Iowa on Saturday.

Though many will remember McLaughlin missing a potential game-winning field goal against Purdue in Champaign last season, the numbers say that he’s one of the best in program history during his brief time at Illinois.

McLaughlin is 8 for 9 on field goals this season — good for 15th-best in the nation — and hasn’t missed an extra point. Including last season, McLaughlin is 20 for 26 on field goals, converting at a 76.9 percent clip. Right now, he’s the third most accurate kicker in program history, trailing just Derek Dimke (84.8 percent) and Peter Christofilakos (84).

Inside of 40 yards, McLaughlin is nearly automatic, making 13 of 14 for his career. In college football, having a reliable kicker is a luxury that even some of the best teams don’t have (just ask Florida State fans in the 90s).

McLaughlin’s 88.9 percent success rate for the 2017 season would tie Jason Reda for the second-best mark for any Illinois player in a single season. In addition, McLaughlin has never missed an extra point in his career, a feat that only two players have ever achieved for their careers at Illinois.

Not only has McLaughlin been accurate, he’s also had his share of attempts. McLaughlin’s 20 career field goals is four away from breaking into the top 10 for most field goals made in Illinois history.

Lovie Smith is notoriously conservative and often opts to punt rather than attempt to kick long field goals. But McLaughlin has shown that he has the leg to make even the longest of kicks, after knocking in a 53-yarder against Minnesota last season — which is tied for the fourth-longest made field goal in Illinois history.

With all this being said, I probably really jinxed McLaughlin going forward because kickers are fickle. Sorry, Chase.