clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Illinois is incredibly close to building something special

And that’s why this season is so frustrating.

TCR // Jack Jungmann

Thank god they survived.

This first third of the season has not been the easiest for Illinois, so I understand there to be some doubt among the fans. I know I was bullish on the season, with expectations to sail through these first four games unscathed, but this is Illinois football, and games like the last four are a dime a dozen.

But as fans, we need to have our team’s back, and I understand that in the last 162 games, Illinois has been, for the lack of better words, garbage.

Out of 68 Power 5 teams in FBS, Illinois is only ahead of Kansas and Colorado and tied with Vanderbilt. We all know where Kansas and Colorado are today.

But to put it into a bit more perspective, Bret Bielema has won 15 of Illinois' last 162 games. With 12 games in a season, Bret Bielema, in the last 2.3 years, has won 24% of all wins in the last 14 years. Barry Lunney’s offense has 16% of those victories.

That’s after four staff turnovers and six head coaches.

That is where Illinois is today. And that's where Kansas and Colorado are a bit different.

Kansas returned its entire roster from 2022, allowing the Jayhawks to grow from year 2 to year 3. Colorado went to the portal and recruited some stars to Boulder to play on Coach Prime’s team — but as we saw last week, the turnaround is not that easy.

This is a long way to say, trust the damn process. Bielema and Lunney know what they are doing. This team has a lot of players who are new to their roles; it's going to be a while before Illinois can bounce back and compete with a complete roster turnover.

Growing Pains. Trust the Process. Because the Altmyer effect reared its head once again, and Illinois has had a positive EPA for three of its first four games.

We can see how the slow unraveling of Illinois in the first quarter was problematic. The teams were going in absolutely different directions. FAU was in control and Illinois was sluggish, slow, and — to make it worse — turning the ball over. We all saw it happen live, and we really did have that gut-wrenching feeling at the end of the first quarter.

But Illinois’ defense started to play like a Power 5 D would play against a Group of 5 team and Illinois’ offense finally got into gear and put the Owls away.

The EPA table shows how Illinois dominated the game play-by-play.

Every play by Illinois had a higher EPA than a play by FAU, except the penalties. Due to penalties, Illinois kept shooting itself in the foot. The Zy Crisler hold was the most egregious one, especially since it took away a touchdown by Pat Bryant. Here are the plays that led up to it:

  • FAU missed FG — -3.39 EPA
  • Reggie Love III 61-yard run — 3.59 EPA (Illinois scores on this drive, they make this touchdown swing a reality)
  • Kaden Faegin 1-yard run — -.43 EPA
  • Pat Bryant's TD was called back on a holding penalty — -.56 EPA.
  • Altmyer's pass is incomplete. — -1.34 EPA
  • Caleb Griffin made 44-yard FG — 1.34 EPA

Illinois can't keep doing this to itself. Good teams put this game away after a sequence of plays like that.

But it's not the play-calling. It’s not the slow starts. It’s not Barry Lunney’s fault. The right plays are there. The plays succeed exactly how Illinois wants them to succeed.

The problem Illinois faces right now is a lack of discipline. The un-tough, un-smart, un-dependable plays are costing Illinois in 2023.

Week 4 Offensive Player of the Game

Luke should honestly get half the credit, but much like fantasy football, the receiver gets most of the credit for a TD.

I honestly love seeing this. We have seven different receivers with a positive EPA. Three tight ends and four receivers. Eight receivers had a catch.

The running game needs work, but we know that. This is despite a Reggie Love run, and a Kaden Feagin aborted touchdown. There are some things that we can work on to win.

I tweeted this right before the game:

Ten receivers caught the ball

Altmyer ran the ball eight times for a TD.

Love got 12 carries. But left the game with an ankle injury. Illinois used four running backs who carried the ball 34 times for 209 yards. That’s 6.1 yards a carry.

Altmyer was throwing for 8.4 yards per attempt. I’ll take those stats any day.

I won't say I was right, but I was right.

Give me a healthy Love and Josh McCray. Love 20 carries, McCray 14 carries, Altmyer 5 carries, and Laughery/Feagin 6 carries, and we beat Purdue easily.

Because this defense is legit.

Week 4 Defensive Player of the Game

First question: Where’s Johnny Newton? FAU did plan for him well and he didn't have a great impact while being triple-teamed. Adding on, Taz Nicholson and Tyler Strain had injuries and were replaced by true freshmen.

But that's where the depth of this defense starts to show.

We saw Alex Bray and Kenenna Odeluga take key snaps on the front seven. Keith Randolph played his part and took advantage of the triple team on Newton.

But when Nicholson and Strain went out, two true freshmen, Zachary Tobe and Saboor Karriem, stepped right in and played without the nerves a true freshman brings. And this is already playing without Matthew Bailey.

This team is built to build the Big Ten West