So close and yet so far away.
That was the prevailing sentiment after the Fighting Illini's tough loss to No. 5 Wisconsin. The Illini held one of the nation's top rushing teams (averaging better than 250 yards on the ground) to 168 rushing yards and 303 total yards. The team played as good of a game defensively as it had all year, and it still wasn't enough.
Of course, the reason lies primarily with our offensive production or lack thereof. Now granted, Illinois was starting a true freshman at quarterback in Cam Thomas (who I really like, despite his raw play this year) and our play calling, as well as inability to settle on one QB, turned a potential upset into a putrid mess mired by the ineptitude of our coordinators on the offensive side of the ball.
It is truly a shame, because the defense played hard-nosed football and kept Illinois in it until the end. No play better encapsulated our defensive effort than a fantastic interception by freshman All-American Bennett Williams on a poorly thrown ball by Badger quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
Now, obviously you can make the argument that the interception did nothing to aid Illinois in scoring points, but it shows the mentality of the defense under Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson. These guys always look for an opportunity to take the ball away, turn the tables or set up the offense in good positions. Illinois’ defense did that all game, its offense just failed to capitalize.
The team has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but its still far away from the eventual goal of beating teams like Wisconsin in games like this.
So close and yet...