After missing the first three games of the 2018 season due to suspension, Nate Hobbs bounced back and solidified himself as a staple of the Illini defense in the final nine games of the year.
The Louisville native racked up 48 tackles, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a sack, and a forced fumble his freshman year, appearing in all 12 games while starting 10. He led the team in defensive snaps and even collected a defensive extra point after a blocked PAT against South Florida.
So...this just happened.— Illinois Football (@IlliniFootball) September 16, 2017
No. 22 USF 6, ILL 2 | 8:20 1Q pic.twitter.com/kfI0KM6tdw
His performance in 2017 was enough to land him on the BTN.com All-Freshman Team and show Lovie Smith that he just might’ve found his cornerback of the future.
Last season, Hobbs appeared in all nine games in his return from suspension, including making seven starts at corner. He recorded 22 tackles, three tackles for loss, a pass breakup, and his first interception at Rutgers on Oct. 6.
Hobbs was also one of three guys to take on Big Ten Media Days this past summer with teammates Alex Palczewski and Reggie Corbin, so expect him to play a significant leadership role on the defensive side of the football this year.
Now, with Marquez Beason likely out indefinitely, I’d expect Hobbs and sophomore Jartavius “Quan” Martin to take the majority of the reps at corner. Martin notched 42 tackles last season to go along with three interceptions and three pass breakups in eight starts making him a pretty seasoned underclassmen.
In 2018, the Illini allowed opposing quarterbacks to connect on over 63 percent of their passes while throwing for almost 265 yards per game and 2.5 touchdowns. The defense was shaky all around last season, giving up almost 40 points a game. On the bright side, it can’t get that much worse, but I expect this unit to be improved with no significant departures from last year.
Hobbs has the potential to be one of the premiere corners in this conference. Now, it’s just time to show that on the field.