I'm glad I went to the pumpkin patch with my family yesterday.
It spared me the disappointment of going to see the Illini game yesterday.
What a complete and utter letdown of a performance. Here are some of the lowlights, starting with the biggest issue:
This Defense is _________
Atrocious. Egregious. Incomprehensible. Whatever pertinent adjective you'd like to use to describe the miserable showing against Purdue. It really hasn't gotten better since Kent State, either. Illinois is averaging allowing over 500 yards and 31.5 points per game defensively. They are ranked 14th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten, and one of the worst in the country.
You can make the youth argument all day; however, there is no excuse for a Lovie Smith defense being this bad in his third year. It's the same thing every game too. Soft coverage. No challenging receivers. No pressure from the front four. No blitzing. Poor tackling. No discipline (two offsides nullified a fourth down and an interception in the third quarter, which led to a Purdue score). It was all on display yesterday for the Illini. If there are no turnovers, there's no stopping anyone.
Many people will question whether Illinois should fire defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson, however:
See plenty of #Illini fans advocating for Lovie Smith to fire defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson. But does anyone actually believe this is Nickerson's defense? What would a firing accomplish?— Scott Richey (@srrichey) October 13, 2018
This is Lovie's mess. At this point, he should get rid of everyone who doesn't recruit and bring as many studs in that department as we can. Because it's not going to get any better with the current defensive staff.
What was the offense’s game plan?
The offense did little to impress yesterday as well. Where was the running game? Is AJ Bush really the answer at quarterback? Mike Epstein with one carry? The answers are pretty apparent.
Purdue sold out to stop the run, bringing pressure on third down passing situations. Illinois could not counteract that strategy. Bush probably isn't the answer at throwing the football. He's a hell of an athlete — just not a great quarterback. And Epstein? Your guess is as good as mine. It's baffling that you would not use every weapon at your disposal in such a big game. Epstein is one of your sharpest tools. Maybe he was hurt. That's the only viable explanation.
Let's not forget special teams.
The kicking game did us no favors, either, as Chase McLaughlin missed a 38-yard field goal to pull the Illini within four early in the game. The punting game was solid, but McLaughlin has struggled a bit since his magnificent game against South Florida. It's not overly concerning (like everything else), but it just adds another layer to Illini fans’ misery.
Now might be the time to start truly questioning whether Lovie Smith is the answer going forward. I see the youth and inexperience. I understand the argument that Lovie needs more time to develop his players into upperclassmen. This was Purdue though, not Ohio State. Their defense is pretty bad in their own right, and the Illini scored seven points. Seven. While allowing 46. To Purdue. Purdue is better than their record indicates. They lost to Eastern Michigan. Illinois should at least be competitive in that situation yesterday. They weren't. Inexcusable.
Illinois' next chance at a Big Ten victory will be next week when they travel to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers.
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