CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — When your rushing attack ranks among the top 15 in the country in terms of yards per game, it’s safe to say that’s your team’s bread and butter.
But that was not the case Saturday when Illinois put up just 69 total rushing yards in a 46-7 Homecoming loss to Purdue.
“We didn’t execute very well, and that’s on me,” said offensive coordinator Rod Smith. “We gotta get our guys ready to play better than what we did... We never did get in a rhythm. Part of that is because we couldn’t get our run game established as much. Maybe we should’ve tried a little bit more, but they were stacking the box quite a bit.”
Running backs Reggie Corbin (7.86 yards per carry) and Mike Epstein (6.79 yards per carry) entered Saturday’s contest ranked first and second in the Big Ten in yards per carry. With that type of production, you can expect opposing defenses to key in on the run, stacking the box, and putting receivers in one-on-one matchups on the outside. To keep the defense honest, quarterbacks have to find their receivers and receivers have to make plays.
Otherwise, the defense can get away without playing honest.
“It’s everybody,” Smith said. “I’m never going to pinpoint and say it’s one guy’s fault. Just like it’s never one guy responsible for a win. It’s all of us... [Senior quarterback A.J. Bush] could be better. There were some things that he did well, and there are some things that he’s got to get better at. We talked this morning about them, and he knows.”
The Illini face a Wisconsin team that fell to No. 23 in the country after a disappointing performance at Michigan this past Saturday. The Badgers come into this matchup allowing 161.8 rushing yards per game, but Rod Smith has his hands full already prepping for this week’s contest.
On Wisconsin, Smith said: “It’s gonna be tough. They’re pretty good. I gotta spend as much time as I can watching those guys. They’re big, and they’re physical. No one runs on them.”
Bush has filled in as a leader for this team since he arrived on campus and he knows that last week’s loss is something that neither him nor the rest of the team can afford to dwell on.
“We just gotta look at the game film,” Bush said. “We gotta make our corrections, and most importantly, we have to flush it. We have to come back to practice with a winning attitude and a winning mindset... We know they’re going to be stout on defense. They’re gonna have playmakers on the field, and they’re going to be well-coached. We have to up our game, and we cannot come out the way we did last week.”