The Rutgers Scarlet Knights are bad at football this year. Worst team in the Big Ten.
That being said, Illinois ran the ball very well, and the defense made some nice stops on its way to a 38-17 win.
There's plenty of positives to take away, but some bad as well:
Illinois chugs along with the running game.
It was good to see AJ Bush healthy again, if only for the fact he's a more effective option in the run game than MJ Rivers.
It was more of the same for the story of the season for Illinois so far. The offensive line opened up holes, and the talented backs did exactly what they were supposed to do. The Illini bludgeoned their beaks, and ran roughshod on Rutgers, accruing over 300 yards on the ground.
Reggie Corbin led the way with almost 150 yards and a touchdown, followed by Bush with 116 and two more scores. Bush now has two of the best rushing games by a quarterback at Illinois since Juice Williams was leading the team.
Granted, it was Rutgers, but Illinois did what it needed to offensively—and say what you want about Bush's passing (and I will)—but he adds an extra element running the football with his speed.
The defense did what it does: Take away the football.
There seems to be somewhat of an identity to Lovie Smith's defense this year. It's not a pretty defense by any means. A better team would have made it closer. Takeaways, though, have been the saving grace.
It seems like every time the Illini need a turnover, they get a fortuitous bounce or a nice play on the ball. That was Lovie's calling card in the NFL. It's starting to establish itself here as well.
The Fighting Illini won the turnover battle 3-0, and Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski was more than happy to gift Illinois some truly awful interceptions. That's the easiest interception Del'Shawn Phillips will ever get.
(Sorry if this sounds like piling on, Rutgers fans, but your team is bad and you know it.)
The tackling was also much improved, as the defensive secondary was shuffled around playing Sydney Brown and Tony Adams at safety, Cam Watkins and freshman Jartavius Martin at corner with Delano Ware at nickel. Brown especially looked physical and sound at the back end and Martin has played well.
I expect Purdue to be better schematically, but it was encouraging to see Illinois defenders wrap up and lay the wood on an inferior team. Refreshingly so.
Wide receiver, where are you?
If Illinois can't get guys open in the passing game, it's going to be tough sledding throwing the football going forward.
No separation from anyone, except Trenard Davis (unsung hero of the game). Ricky Smalling had a tough day at the office too, although he did once again make a tremendous catch on a back shoulder throw for a touchdown.
Sam Mays, Dominic Stampley, Carmoni Green: You have to create some space for yourselves. Or the scheme does. Or we need to recruit the hell out of the position.
It also didn't help that AJ Bush had a pretty terrible passing day. He takes too long to get the football out. He's a one-read quarterback. He'd be better off tucking the ball if his first read isn't there (thanks for the quote, Thumpasaurus).
He isn't your typical pocket passer, but he doesn't need to be. Run the football and limit the mistakes and he'll be okay. Receivers need to catch the ball as well. It's going to be scary if Illinois faces a loaded box and can't throw at all, which teams will do until AJ proves he can get in a rhythm passing.
Where were Lou Dorsey and Nate Hobbs?
Hobbs got in late and made a nice play on the game-sealing interception, as well as a hard tackle in the backfield, forcing Rutgers to settle for a late field goal.
Where was Lou Dorsey, though? You're telling me he's not better than a true freshman across the middle of the field? Poppycock. Maybe it's an attitude issue, or something else, but it seems like you should always play your best players, even if they are shaking off the rust.
I think I speak for Illinois fans that we'll take 38 points and a must-win road game victory. There are still things that need to shoring up though if the Illini are going to beat Purdue next week on Homecoming. Progress comes in baby steps for this program, however.
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