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Away Goes the Cannon

The season has the potential to look very different going forward.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 31 Purdue at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 10 a.m. roster bombshell that hit ahead of Illinois’ matchup with the Purdue Boilermakers was one of the most massive in recent memory, as 14 players were revealed to be out for yesterday’s game. Brandon Peters and Griffin Moore both tested positive for COVID-19 and must sit out for 21 days, while other players identified through contact tracing must sit out for at least 10 days.

This news certainly impacted the game , but its effects will no doubt dominate the rest of the season as well.

Defensive Struggles

The defensive woes that the Wisconsin Badgers revealed last week still appeared to be unresolved for much of yesterday as well. Broken coverages and miscommunication should not be occurring in a secondary that has been running the same defense for almost four seasons now, but these problems have persisted.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 31 Purdue at Illinois Photo by James Black/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Purdue gained 376 yards through the air as well as two of their touchdowns, and Aidan O’Connell was 29-of-36 on passing attempts. This speaks to issues both in the Illini secondary and on the defensive line, which hasn’t been able to create significant pressure outside of Owen Carney’s pass rush.

Out-Manned on Offense

Obviously this game will have a fairly substantial asterisk next to it with regards to the offense, as QB1 Brandon Peters and backup Isaiah Williams were both out and third-stringer Matthew Robinson was injured early on. This forced Coran Taylor to shoulder much of the time at the quarterback position, and he finished with 273 passing yards and two touchdowns against two interceptions.

Taylor’s second touchdown pass was particularly impressive, since he hit Brian Hightower in stride on a slant in the endzone.

What’s Ahead of Us?

Without Peters and others (both those we’re aware of now and those who may be asked to isolate this week due to contact tracing), the outlook next week against the Minnesota Golden Gophers looks bleak. With the Rutgers Scarlet Knights looking impressive in their win against the Michigan State Spartans last week, it’s hard to see another possible victory on the schedule for Illinois.

This sets the stage for another rebuilding season, similar to 2017, when Lovie Smith can (or will be forced to) play younger athletes or players who are further down on the depth chart to see what he has in them. Coran Taylor’s performance today was a perfect example, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more from him, Deuce Spann, and Isaiah Williams as the season goes on. With more data points from these players, we can gain a better idea of who has a role on this team in subsequent (hopefully normal) seasons and who does not.

The same can be said of other position groups. Reserve OL Alex Pihlstrom played reasonably well today and could be an option going forward, while now might also be the time to see if younger running backs like Nick Fedanzo, Jakari Norwood, and Kenyon Sims have roles on the team moving forward.

If this season (which maybe should never have been played in the first place) is always going to have a major asterisk next to it, and if the Illini are going to be uncompetitive throughout most of it due to injuries and illness, then we should at least gain something meaningful to the program from it using the players who are able to play.