Transfers Keep Shining
Lovie Smith’s makeover of the Illinois’ roster, via the transfer portal, is continuing to pay dividends. Quarterback Brandon Peters was 22-of-33 for 225 yards, threw four touchdowns, and one interception. Meanwhile, wide receiver Trevon Sidney finished with five catches for 25 yards.
Sidney’s former teammate at USC, Josh Imatorbhebhe, finished with four catches for 42 yards and two touchdowns. Overall, transfers accounted for all four of the Illini’s touchdowns against UConn.
Transfers shined on defense as well as defensive end Oluwole Betiku Jr. made life difficult for Uconn’s offense. He even leads the nation in sacks (5.0) after two weeks.
Defense still a work in progress
The Illini held UConn to 285 yards and 23 points. This sounds like a good outing but given that UConn was 99th in S&P in 2018, Illini fans were all hoping for a more dominant effort especially since UConn started a true freshman at quarterback in Jack Zergiotis.
All in all, this game was mixed bag for the Illini defense. The defensive line seems to be adequately replacing Bobby Roundtree. The secondary, however, is injury depleted —safety Tony Adams went down during this game while Sydney Brown was held out — and targeting depleted — Stanley Green was ejected for targeting. The issues on the backend of the defense must be shored up before the Illini face more explosive offenses in Nebraska and Michigan in the coming weeks.
The bright spot for the Illini defense was Oluwole Betiku Jr., a transfer from USC, who totaled 3.5 sacks and provided continuous pressure throughout the game.
Best Start to a season in Lovie’s Tenure
Without question, the Illini’s start to the 2019 season feels like the best of Lovie’s tenure. The 2017 and ‘18 Illini also started 2-0, but really struggled against Ball State, a bad Western Kentucky team and Kent State. Now, in 2019, the Illini have trashed Akron and then went on the road to UConn to pick up their first out-of-conference road win since Syracuse in 2007. The offense looks competent and the defense appears to be improved.
Next week, the Illini have to beat a decent Eastern Michigan team to try to get off to their first 3-0 start of Lovie’s tenure. If they do that, they’ll enter Big Ten play with the most momentum they’ve had since Lovie took over.