Another week, another rough loss.
This one had the makings of a sloppy game early, and it favored the team who played sound football.
That's not Illinois.
Let's get to it:
What a turnover fest.
Any other team would have put Wisconsin on upset alert in the first half. Illinois held the Badgers to just 14 points through most of the first and second quarters, and Alex Hornibrook looked very average as a passer.
However, when a team turns the ball over 5(!) times in the first half, and really can't throw the ball at all, there's not much hope for anything offensively.
That's where the Illini are at. If it's not one thing it's another. In this writer's opinion, they should have started Rivers from the start. AJ Bush just has no wherewithal as a pocket passer. It doesn't help that his o-line doesn't do well in pass blocking, and his receivers can't get open on a regular basis. That being said, Bush has extremely flawed mechanics that lead to bad timing and errant throws, including two interceptions in the first quarter which led to Wisconsin extending their lead and Bush being benched for Rivers.
I wouldn't peg Rivers as the savior of Illinois this season, but you can tell he brings more as a passer than Bush and while less athletic, can make enough plays to warrant the lion's share of work going forward.
The team struggled with turnovers when Rivers took over as well, though. Fumbles, another interception (by a defensive lineman, no less), just careless ball handling. The best teams in the country lose if they turn the ball over at a high rate. Let alone one of the worst against a top 25 team on the road.
Run the ball in short yardage situations.
It's not rocket science. Your offensive line run blocks well, you have a bevy of talented running backs, including Ra'Von Bonner, who had a nifty touchdown run in the second half. Your offense is geared towards running the ball. So why would you throw the ball on second and third down with two yards to go, on your first offensive drive, when you're already down by seven and you're running well so far? There has been some really bewildering play calls by Rod Smith and the coaching staff as a whole. I understand you have to be able to do both a little, but you've been very successful running the ball so far. Especially in a situation where a yard or two is needed to pick up a first down and keep your atrocious defense off the field. Extending drives offensively will keep everyone fresh.
(I propose we just scrap the whole passing concept and run the triple option offense. We'll have the ideal personnel for it next year, and we can start implementing it now, but that's just me).
(Imagine Reggie Corbin running in that offense. Wait...you already can)
The defensive staff needs to go.
I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but this entire defensive staff needs to be fired. There's nothing working. And they're not even trying to be creative. Same thing every week. No press corners. Ten yard cushions. Playing back on our heels. No pressure from the front four. No creative blitzing. The pass rush was a little better, and we did run a nice stunt that led to pressure. That was it. That was the end of the nice things to say about Illinois' defense. It's ridiculous that in year three of a Lovie Smith defense, we've regressed to this point, but here we are.
One positive: the kicking game.
If there's one aspect that's overlooked in yesterday's debacle, it's the fact that Chase McLaughlin rounded back into form. He nailed a 52 yard field goal before the half into a stiff wind. He also hit another long one down by four scores (thanks, Lovie ball). It was a nice bounceback performance.
Josh Whitman better compile a list.
He should have started it by now. I don't personally believe Lovie will be fired this year, but by the end of the next season, if there's no progress made on the field, and recruiting has wanned, it'll be time to make a change in my opinion.
It's even more frustrating when you see Jeff Brohm succeed at Purdue (year two), Dino Babers at Syracuse (year three), and Matt Campbell at Iowa State (year three). It's not as if those schools have a rich tradition on which to fall back on. Yet, they have proven it's possible to win at a school not usually known for it.
Hopefully, Josh Whitman has a list of prospective coaches by late 2019. He needs to be prepared for the eventuality that Lovie is not the answer. If he's not, he hasn't done his job.