The days leading up to the Penn State game were cautiously optimistic for many. The Illini had a chance to really show what they were made of in Lovie Smith’s third year as head coach. MJ Rivers, filling in for an injured AJ Bush, showed promise and a nice zip on his passes. Three important suspended players were returning to the lineup. And Mike Epstein and Ricky Smalling have been looking as good as ever.
Unfortunately, the fourth quarter broke the game wide open, and the Illini lost by a landslide. If Smith wants to show real improvement of his team, he is going to need to win at least a couple of Big Ten games. Most are of the opinion that this team has at least a fighting chance against Nebraska, Minnesota, Rutgers, Purdue, Maryland and Northwestern. Getting three or more wins in these games would be huge, but there are a few players who need to step up if that is going to happen.
Dorsey was one of the five players suspended — which also included Bennett Williams and Nate Hobbs — for the first three games after a violation of team rules. Dorsey was a stud receiving option last year in the tight end position, and he had an outstanding year as a freshman.
This was in the first game of the year. He ended with 22 catches for 395 yards and three touchdowns. Not too bad for a newcomer with a very questionable quarterback corps last year.
This year, though, Dorsey has played in just the Penn State game and was a non-factor. We know he has the tools. Don’t forget that seam pass against Indiana last year:
Dorsey could be game changer on offense, especially with the injuries to Dudek, Meadors and Carter. He needs to step up in those games the Illini have a real shot at winning.
The offensive line has been under criticism for much of the year. Larry Boyd’s suspension made what was already an inexperienced position lacking depth to being even thinner. There have been bright spots, of course: Nick Allegretti has been excellent all year. He continues to be one of the best players on the team. Kendrick Green seems to have found a knack in the running game, and Alex Palczewski has really improved the past few games.
Vederian Lowe, the 6-foot-6, 315-pound sophomore from Rockford, has a real chance to make an impact and help the offensive line grow together. Losing Allegretti after this year will be tough, but improvement in guys like Palczewski is really encouraging. Lowe needs to make similar strides.
As a freshman, Lowe was an All-Freshman Honorable mention by BTN.com. He certainly has the size and skill, but the execution needs to come along with it. Last year, in his first career start (at Iowa), he had a costly ineligible downfield penalty that cost Illinois a touchdown and a ton of momentum before halftime.
I really enjoyed watching this clip, because I think Lowe has a really high ceiling. Hopefully it shows over the next eight games.
This is not a name I thought I would be talking about a whole lot this year. With Smalling and Dudek returning, and transfers of Stampley and Meadors coming in, I thought there would be some depth at wide receiver. I should have known better.
Remember that punt that was bouncing around on the field against Rutgers last year? Carmoni tried to jump on it, and Rutgers recovered. Not what Illini fans were hoping for. Most people pegged him to see very little time this year, but against Penn State he had a relatively good game. He snagged four catches for 49 yards in the loss, but it shows one thing: potential.
In those six winnable games I mentioned, defenses will likely be all over Smalling, Dorsey and Epstein. Green will have the chance to make some big plays. If he can produce like he did against Penn State, he will have a good year and maybe even a significant impact in the passing game.
Who do you want to see step up in the latter parts of the season?
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