In Illinois’ primetime matchup with No. 22 South Florida in Tampa, the Illini entered as a 17-point underdog and it showed in a 47-23 defeat on Friday night.
South Florida was able to run the ball at will on offense, and Illinois’ (2-1) offense couldn’t get out of the mud for much of the game, culminating with a change at quarterback in favor of Jeff George Jr., as the Bulls (3-0) topped 30 points for an active NCAA record dating back to last year.
A few highlights for Illinois included a blocked field goal and a blocked extra point which was returned for a two-point conversion to make the score 6-2 early in the first quarter.
The Illinois defensive line which had looked so dominant in the first two weeks had trouble containing Quinton Flowers, who ended up with 280 yards passing and 106 yards rushing with five total touchdowns.
Here are three things we learned from Friday night’s game:
Chayce Crouch’s job is no longer secure
Crouch was 8 for 18 passing for 76 yards with a horrendous interception, and added five carries for 10 yards.
George Jr. replaced the junior midway through the third quarter when the game was somewhat out of hand and he was mildly effective in the game, highlighted by a 21-yard touchdown to Mike Epstein early in the fourth quarter, and a 76-yard screen pass to freshman Ricky Smalling.
Whether or not the change in quarterback was because of the margin of the game or because Garrick McGee wanted to see a different guy under center is up for debate.
George Jr. had a nice touchdown toss to Epstein but an equally awful interception in the fourth quarter as he chucked a ball up for grabs while under duress.
What is certain, however, is that this is a good week to have a bye week before the meat grinder of the Big Ten gets going in two weeks against Nebraska.
This was an all-time ugly game
It was a matchup between a team that plays a whole bunch of freshmen versus a team that hasn’t practiced in two weeks as the USF schedule has been upended by Hurricane Irma sweeping through the southeast.
The teams combined for 26 penalties in the first half and the NCAA record for penalties in a game (36) seemed to in play for much of the night.
Add on top of that that the game started 37 minutes late due to lightning in the area, it turned about to be over four hours of sloppy football for Illini fans to watch.
The Illini defense will learn from this game
After shutting down the aerial assault of Western Kentucky last weekend, Illinois’ defense seemed confused and overwhelmed by South Florida’s up-tempo style and commitment to running the football.
The first play of the game was a draw play that preyed upon wunderkind Isaiah Gay’s pass rush as the young freshman got too far upfield and left a wide running lane for the ballcarrier to run through.
The Illini defense worked for much of the half to keep the Bulls off the scoreboard, but a late touchdown right before halftime extended the USF lead back to 14 points as Flowers rushed for a touchdown with no time remaining on the clock.
An injury to watch is Jamal Milan, who limped off in the second half. He’s been a key cog to the interior of the line, along with Tymir Oliver, and would be a huge loss if he had to miss any time going forward.