CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A week ago, Illinois hadn’t won a football game in 38 days— now, it’s living a dream.
On Saturday, the Illini beat No. 6 Wisconsin in what many consider the biggest upset in school history.
So, what does this mean for the Illini moving forward?
Saturday’s game wasn’t just big for the team now, but for the composition of future teams to come.
Lovie Smith definitely took that into account,
“We want to bring in more recruits. Part of the equation is putting a better product on the football field,” Smith said. “When you beat the No. 6 team in the country, that says you have a better product on the football field.”
Antonio Doyle Jr. was in the stands watching the upset take place. Doyle is one of the biggest recruits in the nation still up for grabs, a four-star linebacker slotted as the No. 138 player in the class of 2020, according to 247 Sports.
Gregory Spann, another member of the class of 2020 and a dual-threat quarterback, was also on hand on Saturday.
What’s to come
The Illini have five games left, almost all of which they have a great chance at winning.
Looking at where the Illini were last year, their 2018 homecoming game was the complete opposite of what happened this past Saturday.
“Homecoming last year we were embarrassed by Purdue. Get a chance to redeem yourself. You want to stack wins as much as anything,” Lovie Smith said.
Both teams entered the weekend with a 3-3 record, but it was Purdue that left Champaign with a 46-7 victory over the Illini.
But this isn’t the same team as last year, and a lot of things seemed to pull together on Saturday. It’s clear that Illinois wants wins more than anything.
“This is about getting four wins,” Lovie Smith said. “We want to be 1-0 after this weekend.”
Illinois’ run defense has struggled for a while, but dominated on Saturday. The Illini will want to keep that up against Purdue. The tackling game was also much improved, something that’s been an issue the entire season.
The Illini should take advantage of the fact that Purdue hasn’t seemed to get a run game going this season. The Boilermakers rank last in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (59.1) and next to last in the nation.
However, the Boilermakers still have weapons on offense, standout freshman David Bell has been a force, totaling 505 receiving yards and three touchdowns in four Big Ten conference games so far.
But if Illinois can figure out Jonathon Taylor, surely the coaching staff can come up with a gameplan to stop Bell. With 17 forced turnovers, the Illini sit at third most in the country.
According to Lovie Smith, there are certain statistics that matter more than others,
“What statistics really matter?” Lovie Smith asked. “Offensively, explosive plays. We had 14 explosive plays...on the defensive side, turnover ratio. You have to stress taking the ball away. That will never change.”
Overall, Illinois seems ready for this game. They want to win and have built the confidence they needed to push through the second half of this season.
Josh Imatorbhebhe talked about breaking through an invisible wall he felt his team was hitting.
“We have a higher expectation going into every week,” Imatorbhebhe said. “Not to just go in and play hard and hope... No, we want to go in and we want to win. We were able to beat one of the top teams in the country, I don’t see why we can’t beat the rest of the people on our schedule.”