The last two weeks have given Illini fans vibes not felt in Champaign since the Ron Zook era.
However, are the wins that precipitated these vibes a sign of a program that has finally figured out its way under Lovie or this simply an illusion? The Illini have won the last two games primarily because the run game has been effective and because the defense has forces turnovers. So, we’ll assess whether these aspects of the Illini’s success are sustainable and which ones can crashing back to earth
Offense: The running game is sustainable
The Illini rushed for a workmanlike 246 yards on 53 carries against Purdue. 131 of those yards came from senior Dre Brown. With Brown coming into his own, with Ra’von Bonner continuing to be a steady presence, and with Reggie Corbin continuing to always be one play away from breaking a long run, the Illini run games seems capable of consistently putting up 200 to 250 yards rushing a game. This kind of output will be necessary in the next three of the next four games as the Illini face the tough defenses of Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern. But, this kind of output can be replicated.
Defenses: Getting turnovers (at this rate) is not sustainable
Last week against Wisconsin, the Illini gave up 420 yards of offense to Wisconsin but were able to force 3 turnovers, which is the reason the Illini were still in the game in the fourth quarter. This week against Purdue, the Illini defense was much better as they only gave up 271 yards of offense.
But again, they forced two big turnovers, including a pick-6 early in the game.
So, turnovers are a big reason the Illini won the last two games. Unfortunately, there is an element of luck with turnovers. While the Illini being opportunistic is a good sign, the Illini cannot expect to continue coming up on the correct side of the turnover margin game in and game out.
The defense still needs to do a better. Play like it did Saturday though, and the Illini will continue turning really good football into wins en route to a bowl appearance.