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Illinois has its stars. Now it’s about cutting down mistakes

The five biggest bright spots from the Illini’s disappointing loss.

Brad Repplinger // TCR

Friday night was a tough watch.

Kansas punched Illinois in the mouth from the very first snap and despite a stronger second half effort, the Illini left Lawrence with a whole lot of questions.

The answers will hopefully come during a long week of reflection and evaluation for Bret Bielema and Co. Much like the Indiana loss in 2022, the Illini’s first road game serves as a wake-up call and an opportunity to make the necessary adjustments to make a mid-season run.

Amidst the disappointment, there were some bright spots against the Jayhawks that Illinois can build off heading into a stiff home test against Penn State.

Here are Week 2’s five stars:

1. Johnny Newton

While the defense as a whole struggled, the Illini’s preseason All-American bounced back from his quiet Week 1.

Johnny Newton was credited with five pressures and two sacks, looking like his usual disruptive force all night.

Kansas was one step ahead of the Illini defense for most of the night, but Newton stepped up and provided the most resistance.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

With a handful of NFL scouts in attendance, Johnny made himself some money.

Whatever changes Aaron Henry decides to make defensively — and there needs to be plenty — one simple principle should be the driving force. Let Johnny Newton eat.

2. Luke Altmyer

For the second straight week, the Illini’s quarterback is near the top of the list.

It wasn’t a perfect night for Altmyer by any means, but he showed off strong poise and pocket presence in the face of constant pressure. Through a barrage of hits, six sacks, and getting the wind knocked out of him, Altmyer battled hard and nearly single-handedly made the second half competitive.

Altmyer finished the night throwing for 202 yards and a touchdown along with 70 yards rushing and two more scores (98 rushing yards if you eliminate the 28 yards in sacks).

Of his two interceptions, one was bobbled by Pat Bryant and the other was a desperation throw battling against the clock.

His 72-yard rushing touchdown on 3rd-and-18 in the third quarter was the second longest run all-time by an Illini quarterback.

Amidst many other issues that need to be addressed, Illinois has its quarterback. Altmyer looks the part of a tough, playmaking leader and should only continue to grow as the season wears on.

3. Griffin Moore

Getting tight ends more involved in the passing game could be a huge boost to the Illini offense going forward.

While Tip Reiman has always graded out well as a blocker, he’s never really developed into much of a pass-catching threat, aside from certain play designs.

That’s why Griffin Moore’s performance Friday night could be an extremely encouraging sign.

The junior & former high school quarterback hauled in four catches for 56 yards, including this incredible play on third down:

Moore has the size and athleticism to be a true threat in the passing game and the perfect complement to Reiman.

4. Xavier Scott

Just like Altmyer, Xavier Scott cracks the list for the second straight week.

Scott, like nearly everybody in the Illini secondary, had his share of bad moments. He was the defensive back credited with allowing the back-breaking 48-yard completion on Kansas’ 36-second touchdown drive to close the first half.

But Scott continues to look the part of one of Illinois’ next stars on the back end.

He was one of the biggest standouts on defense against Toledo and, once again in Week 2, Scott seemingly found himself around the football quite often.

He forced a fumble (one that Kansas eventually recovered) and made an athletic play to intercept Kansas quarterback Jalon Daniels.

As Illinois attempts to make a post-Virginia 2021 type of defensive transformation in the coming weeks, they’re going to need to identify the defensive backs they can trust. Scott may be at the top of that list after two weeks.

5. Isaiah Williams

Last week, both Pat Bryant and Casey Washington cracked this list.

When both of them were held nearly silent against Kansas, Isaiah Williams emerged as Luke Altmyer’s go-to target.

I-Will had six catches for 99 yards and tallied those totals in a variety of ways.

His fingerprints were on each Illinois scoring drive and we saw him as the biggest focal point in the Illini passing attack as they tried to march back from a 34-7 deficit.

The bottom line is that Illinois is going to need far more production from its wide receivers than it got on Friday night. But one thing remains clear: find Isaiah Williams, good things happen.