Illinois lost 44-19 on Saturday. Here are our rapid takeaways.
Luke Altmyer is a talented mystery.
Luke Altmyer can change games with his legs. His 39-yard scramble to open the game was a shot in the arm of an offense that needed it.
That drive stalled. It included a criminal overthrow to 6’6+ tight end Henry Boyer. That’s simply unacceptable in a game of inches. In the opening game against Toledo, Altmyer showed tremendous accuracy on shorter routes and quick hitters like slants. That accuracy has been spotty at best in the intervening weeks.
This year, he has to be the guy for Illinois. John Paddock is a gutsy, experienced player. But what he put on tape in his one full year as a starter at Ball State combined with his series in the Penn State game doesn’t provide much optimism.
So either Altmyer can find an actual get-right spot soon, or this season could go the way of the Lovie Smith years.
This game brings the obvious question: did Illinois not push hard enough when they had Hudson Card on campus for an official visit?
Nic Scourton and Kydran Jenkins spent more time in the Illinois backfield than Kaden Feagin.
Of course, Altmyer wasn’t done many favors by the sieve that is the Illinois offensive line. Purdue met little resistance at the point of attack. It led to Altmyer struggling with more than just inaccuracy and ball security. He was struggling to get pieces of grass out of his teeth.
The Illinois front five was seen as a potential strength coming into the season. That seems like a distant notion at this point. Isaiah Adams, seen as the surest prospect on the line, has been far less productive than last season. This is made even more galling by the head coach who coached Joe Thomas and Frank Ragnow saying that Adams could be the best offensive lineman he ever coached.
When a team like Purdue with a struggling defense pushes around the program built on physicality, the “built on physicality” model rings hollow.
Illinois can’t beat anybody without converting third downs.
The ugliest stat from the Purdue loss was the Illini going 2-of-13 on third downs.
I know the team will get plenty of third down and short-yardage film and drills all week. But it comes down to scheme vs. personnel. Is it that Illinois doesn’t have players who can move the sticks? Or is it that those players aren’t being put in positions to succeed?
The answer may be more complex than that. However, I see players who can convert. Isaiah Williams, Kaden Feagin, Tip Reiman, Casey Washington, and Pat Bryant have demonstrated varying abilities to convert first downs. So why couldn’t they do so against a statistically meh defense?
Even the Pat Bryant touchdown came on fourth down.
Where does this team go from here?
It’s the dark timeline rearing its head again. This game fell into most #IlliniExperts’ “winnable” category. Instead, it was a prison beating. This is the kind of game Illinois experienced repeatedly in previous seasons.
The Big Ten West looks extra winnable in its final season. And Illinois has played like the worst team in the division. Yes, even Northwestern hasn’t been this ineffective.
Kevin Kane and Ryan Walters outcoached Aaron Henry.
Barry Lunney Jr. called a better game this week. Illinois remained close to Purdue in terms of time of possession and total yards for most of the game. There wasn’t even an overwhelming preponderance of turnovers. You’d think it was a close game from those numbers, but it wasn’t.
Head coach Bret Bielema got beaten down by his protege. This is one giant L that is going to hurt.
That is the saltiest salt in the wound of the Illini’s current head man much like Illinois’ ostentatious show-out moment at Camp Randall last year was.
Does this Illini squad have another gear? With players like Johnny Newton and Isaiah Williams, one would think so. But even if they do have another gear, based on the past five weeks, that gear may not be enough.
Is it young dude SZN?
With the lack of productivity, maybe it’s time to roll with the less experienced players on the roster and let them make their mistakes now. Maybe for the long-term future of the program, that could be the right move.
Brandon Henderson, Malik Elzy, James Kreutz, Saboor Karriem, Zachary Tobe, Kaden Feagin, Aidan Laughery, Ashton Hollins, Kenari Wilcher, and Hank Beatty have shown flashes either in camp (based on reports) or in games.
Maybe some new energy and electric talent can answer some of the issues that have been plaguing the Illini this season.