Illinois Football beat Ball State 24-21 today. This is the 20th straight opening day win for the Illini at home. Mike Epstein scored two touchdowns including the game winner in his first college football game. Illinois had a dramatic blocked field goal to seal the win at the end. These things are true.
It’s also true that Illinois was completely outplayed by Ball State, a team that only won four games in the MAC last season. A team that is expected to be near the bottom of the MAC again this year.
Illinois was outgained by the Cardinals 375-216, while running 36 less plays on the day. Ball State held the ball for 36 minutes and 33 seconds on offense.
Ball State went 12-21 on third down conversions, many of them of the third and long variety. Illinois was unable to get off the field.
Illinois lost the battle for the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The offensive line struggled to stop the Ball State defensive line from getting to the backfield. They had four sacks on the day.
Illinois only managed 71 total rushing yards 145 total passing yards against Ball State. Illinois starting RB, Kendrick Foster gained less than two yards per carry.
To put it simply, Illinois was outplayed and outcoached by Ball State, and were lucky to come out with the win. It would be easy to say that winning is all that matters in the game, but in this case it’s not.
This was a team that the Illini were much more talented than. Yes Illinois has an incredibly young team and many players were playing in their first game, but the same was true for Ball State, especially on defense.
Illinois won this game by the skin of their teeth thanks to some great clutch plays by Mike Epstein, Mike Dudek and the defense. They had the heart and fight to pull out a come from behind victory today.
There are some real positives to take away from this, specifically the play of many of the true freshman. Chayce Crouch did okay in his first game as a starter. He wasn’t good, but he avoided major mistakes and made some plays. Mike Epstein looked like he may take over the starting RB job from Foster after only one game.
But, this game should mostly be a cause of concern for Illinois going forward this year. Ball State is the least talented team they will face this season. If Illinois gets outclassed by them, how are they going to look against USF? Against Nebraska? Against Ohio State and Wisconsin? Hell, against Rutgers?
Let’s be happy with the win today. It’s always better to win than lose. Be glad that Illinois found a way to pull this one off, but, based on today’s game, we may have seen the first and last Illini victory of the season. It’s going to be another long year.