For the love of god, this is just Week 3.
This thought should never be uttered.
How long until fans turn on Bielema?— Mike Carpenter (@FanboyCarp) September 9, 2023
This is unacceptable.
I’m sorry, but this idea keeps fans from returning to Memorial Stadium. Just trust the damn process.
Before diving into the stats, Illinois isn't Alabama. Illinois isn't Michigan. Illinois isn't even Wisconsin, which, since the Barry Alvarez days, has a respected name in college football. It will take a bit to get back to peak performance levels when you lose your main starters.
These are what we call growing pains. This is what builds character with our first-time starters.
I had shared this before, but if you didn't see it, here it is again.
The Kansas loss can be pinpointed to one and only one thing:
Kansas had some of the best returning production in P5. #Illinois was retooling. This matters early in the season.— Mihir Chavan (@MihirChavan_) September 9, 2023
Notable early season wins because of returning production:
Duke > Clemson
Utah > Florida
UNC > SCAR
LSU < FSU has a stud QB
Colorado - Dion pic.twitter.com/owy1JkEmyR
Sure, there are issues on defense and the offensive line. But HOW MANY NEW STARTERS ARE THERE WITH AT LEAST 3 YEARS LEFT?
Trust the damn process. Illinois will and still can win the Big Ten West.
To the stats.
The first one, to me, is marginally encouraging. I’ll explain why marginally in a bit.
Another showing of the Altmyer effect.
Illinois had an average EPA per play of .158
Kansas had an average EPA of -0.037
Throughout the game, Illinois was continuing to move towards scoring points. That's a complex statement to digest after what we saw on TV Friday night. But the stats don't lie. And that is the encouraging part.
But that's precisely why this loss hurts. On Friday night, this team started to make plays that brought us closer to a victory, but then there was a man down the field. There was an unsportsmanlike conduct. Myriad other penalties kept these positive plays from scoring points. That late push was too little, too late.
But these are just the growing pains. Young players thrust into the spotlight make bone-headed, moronic plays that make these road losses hurt.
Sure, there are concerns with the right side of the offensive line, the linebackers, and the sluggish defense (I’ll address this shortly). This can be fine against a MAC team, but it will not be fine against a Power 5 team. But at the same time, these issues can be fixed. And we saw that turnaround happen in 2021 after losses to UTSA and Virginia. Trust the process. Trust Bielema. The ship will be righted.
I have a few EPA tables that I intend to debut next week to bring more color to the chart above.
Onto the personnel awards.
Week 2 - Offensive Player of the Game
Tip Reiman is an NFL-caliber tight end. Everything we wanted out of Luke Ford, we are seeing in Reiman.
And his partner in crime, Griffin Moore, is right up there with him. Two tight-end sets might be the short-yardage play that Illinois needs to start using.
Outside of the tight ends, the majority of the rest of the offense had a lackluster game. Pat Bryant had one catch on five targets for 8 yards, bobbling another which lead to an interception.
The offensive line and the paltry running game for the Illini are pretty un-Bielema-like. So much so that I truly believe this is another “we don’t have a two-deep on the o-line” kick in the butt that Bielema will give the team this week. We finally saw Kaden Faegin, who should start to see reps as the big-bodied back for Illinois.
To win next week, we need a much better showing.
Week 2 - Defensive Player of the Game
I only have three things to say here.
- The Illinois linebackers look slow. James Kreutz should see some more time, which provides some much-needed depth behind Tarique Barnes and Dylan Roziek.
- Gabe Jacas should be lethal against a pocket passer like Drew Allar. Seth Coleman should be able to step it up.
- Johnny Newton had a beautiful game and should get better every week.
Drew Allar gonna taste grass all day next week. https://t.co/ndRgftomLY— Mihir Chavan (@MihirChavan_) September 9, 2023
I mean, who has Penn State even played?
West Virginia has the 112th-best passing defense in FBS. Delaware is FCS. Drew Allar has yet to face the Law Firm, Jacas, and Seth Coleman.