Most Illini fans, including myself, spent the majority of this past football season face-palming at all the mistakes the team continuously made. Although the team didn’t look too pretty out there, Lovie Smith’s coaching crew may have found some unexpected playmakers in their freshman class.
Before suffering an injury, Mike Epstein looked like a solid feature back that the Fighting Illini could consistently rely on. Even with an offensive line that struggled mightily throughout the season, Epstein managed to average 6.1 yards per carry. Most of his carries were accompanied by breaking tackles and fighting for extra yards.
Neither Chayce Crouch nor Jeff George Jr. could get the job done and be THE quarterback for the team. The coaching staff gave Cam Thomas a chance, and he responded by giving the offense some life. His speed and athleticism will open up the run-pass option playbook, which will surely help propel the offense once Epstein is healthy again.
Fortunately, Thomas will have reliable targets like Louis Dorsey and Ricky Smalling to throw to. Both Smalling and Dorsey were a big part of the offense last season as they lead the team with 510 yards and 395 yards, respectively, as true freshman.
On this play against Indiana, Dorsey shows off his athleticism and instinct by reading the Cover-2 defense, making a move and looking for the ball between the two safeties.
Plays like these make us hopeful for the future.
The coaches took a risk with the youth movement, and it seems like it will pay off big next season as promising freshman look to build on their experience.