Entering Saturday’s tilt with Purdue, I openly lobbied for fans to believe in this team as currently constructed. Understanding that a good bit of luck had come from the turnover margin that had graced this team early in the season, I expected the Illini to come away with a win after picking off pass heavy Purdue at least three times.
What I did not expect was a complete failure on all facets of the game. With only one interception and no fumble recoveries, the Illini finished with an even turnover margin (1 to 1) and utilized questionable play calling throughout the day.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the game in question a little closer.
The Good: Sydney Brown
Freshman defensive back Sydney Brown may have been the lone bright spot for the Illini defense on Saturday. With 12 total tackles, two pass breakups, and his first career interception coming off a Cam Watkins deflection, Brown shone brightest for a hapless defense that could not stop the run or the pass or Saturday.
Throughout the season, Sydney Brown has shown improvement on defense and should start seeing more starts as the season closes down.
The Bad: Play Calling (specifically the lack of Mike Epstein)
Coming into the Purdue game, Epstein had been a focal point of the Illinois offense. Averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 8.6 yards yards per reception, Epstein had shown his injury shortened 2017 campaign was not a fluke.
Fast forward to the end of the Purdue game and Epstein’s stat sheet reads like that of a fourth-string back. One carry for ten yards and two receptions for six yards. Three touches, sixteen yards. You can’t fault Epstein for a lack of carries. AJ Bush had 20 carries for a whopping 24 yards — the byproduct of a run-first quarterback.
Purdue had the right defensive set all day. Stack the box and force Bush, who has not shown the ability to to be a passer thus far in 2018, to throw the ball. With the lack of go-to receivers for the Illini and Bush’s tendency to tuck the ball and run at the first sign of pressure, it is no wonder the Illini only tallied 250 yards of total offense on 46 plays, a paltry 5.4 yards per play.
If the Illini hope to garner any more Big Ten wins in 2018, Bush will need to find more confidence in the offensive line and in his throwing ability. With the passing game seeing a lot of under thrown balls, that may be easier said than done.
The Ugly: Everything Else
611 yards given up on defense. One missed field goal. Nine punts. 22 minutes of possession. 14 first downs.
This was an utter failure on all aspects of the game. This has been said over and over but it deserves mentioning again. Over and over again fans are asked and practically begged to buy in. 41,966 was the announced attendance for Saturday’s game — a game that the Illini (on paper) should have at least been competitive in. For their efforts, fans were given a 46-7 embarrassment.
Here’s the photo I referred to in my From The Stands post. Grange Grove was PACKED before the game. Look at all that beautiful trash afterwards. All these people begging to buy in and we give them 46-7. pic.twitter.com/eF7MJBliHD— Robert (@ALionEye) October 14, 2018
If you are going to ask fans to buy in, which many have, you must give them something more to cheer for than a first-quarter touchdown followed by three quarters of inept offense and defense. If you truly care about the fans — if you truly care about the commitment that fans have been willing to give to a team that has eight wins in the Lovie Smith era — find a way to fix whatever this was on Saturday or they will leave, again, in droves.
Many are teetering on the edge of apathy, and it won’t surprise me when Illinois is at home next on Nov. 2 against Minnesota to see a plethora of open seats at Memorial Stadium.
Nobody wants to pay to see their team get thrashed.
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