We assess the damage after another lopsided Illinois football defeat, this time at the hands of the Badgers on Wisconsin Homecoming. The grades are in:
A.J. Bush: D+
Look, the result in the air were ugly. Two completions for 10 yards and two bad interceptions. To his credit, Bush again looked effective in the read option, hitting for 47 yards on five attempts, while making solid reads when giving to his backs. Additionally, the conditions were far more unfavorable for throwing the football when Bush was taking snaps compared to M.J. Rivers. But these mitigating factors are all that save Bush from a failing grade considering the even completion ratio to Illinois receivers and Wisconsin defenders.
Bush is not going to win many games with his arm, and Rod Smith and company have little interest in putting that burden on him. However, the gains in the option run attack were not and will never be enough to overcome multiple mistakes that lead to turnovers.
Bush is not expected to win games with his arm, but he cannot lose them with his arm either, and the decision to lift him, especially given the deficit was the correct call at the right time. This grade doesn’t bode well for his future prospects under center. Though, given the upcoming opponents and philosophical preference to run the football, we still may not have seen the last of A.J. Bush.
M.J. Rivers: B-
Again, Rivers benefited from the Camp Randall sun burning away the snow following his entrance into the game. But Rivers showed composure and confidence in the pocket, along with the otherwise missing ability to get the ball downfield. Rivers also overcame his offensive line’s uncomfortable transition from run blocking for Bush to attempting to protect Rivers in the pocket, which was clearly shaky after the switch was made.
Ultimately, Rivers was a bit disappointing in his last few series, missing four of his last five throws, stalling the garbage time, fourth-quarter drives.
Needless to say, Smith and Smith have a big decision to make with several winnable upcoming games, and two vastly different quarterbacks vying for one job.
Or let Coran Taylor play and use his four games. Just an idea!
The scoreboard typically speaks for itself in assessing defensive performance, but the Illini unit likely deserves a break, despite allowing 49 points to go along with 545 yards against. Illinois’ defense did all it could to weather the first half storm of five turnovers by its counterpart unit. Further, the two takeaways briefly brought the Orange and Blue back within striking distance early in the third quarter.
Unfortunately, the thin front seven of the Illini were completely outclassed by the Badgers offensive line, who wore down the inexperienced Illinois group. The pregame injury to Dele Harding likely sealed the fate of the already shorthanded run stopping force.
This defense was demonstrably gassed by mid-third quarter, when Taiwan Deal took a seemingly dead play 39 yards to the house, which effectively ended the football game.
Special Teams: B+
Can we still give out one decent mark? Sure, why not!
Chase McLaughlin hit on both his field goals, including a 52-yarder, adding two extra points to total eight points for his side. Blake Hayes struggled somewhat in the Madison snow and cold, but still managed a 48-yard punt with one pin inside the 20.
The Illini really missed a golden opportunity to turn a Badger punter fumble in the blizzard into instant points, which could have swung the momentum at the time. But all in all, the special teams put in a respectable performance, while remaining the most consistent source of points for Lovie’s squad.
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