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NCAA Football Big 10 FootballIllinois Fighting Illini

Illinois Fighting Illini Season Preview: Defense

Mason Monheim Jonathan Brown Illinois Fighting Illini

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In a very disappointing 2012 season which saw the Illinois Fighting Illini go winless in Big Ten conference play and 2-10 overall in head coach Tim Beckman’s first season, the defense struggled just as much as their offense did all season long.

The Illini finished 10th in the conference in total defense, letting up 419.2 yards per game on the year. They finished 11th in the conference in scoring defense, giving up a shocking 35.1 points per game. The Illini also tied for last in the conference in turnovers, only racking up eight total turnovers on the year.

While the run defense was very bad for the Illini, finishing 11th in the conference giving up 240.8 yards per game on the ground, the one positive on the defense was the secondary and pass defense.

They finished sixth in the conference, only giving up 178.5 yards through the air on the season and only allowing 13 touchdowns while intercepting three passes.  The secondary will prove to be a building block in the path to success for the defense in the 2013 season.

Three big losses for the Illini will be defensive tackle Akeem Spence, defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Ashante Williams, who were three of the biggest difference makers on the entire roster in 2012.

Returning for the Illini in 2013 will be sophomore Mason Monheim, who as a freshman led the team in tackles with 86 and also tallied six tackles for loss, one and a half sacks and an interception. Look for Monheim to be the leader of the Illini defense and one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten.

Also returning for the Illini is junior defensive back Earnest Thomas and senior linebacker Jonathan Brown, who were among the top five performers on defense a season ago.

The only way to go is up for the Fighting Illini in 2013, and they have some good pieces returning on defense, especially with leader Mason Monheim emerging as a star in the conference. With a solid recruiting class on defense, look for the Illini to make solid improvements in stopping the run and also build on their solid secondary play.

Erik Sargent is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Erik_Sargent, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.