Illinois Defense Lacks Fight

By Derek Helling
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

It was technically a neutral site game, but the distance from the University of Illinois in Champaign to Soldier Field in Chicago, IL is 1,883 miles shorter than the distance from the University of Washington in Seattle, WA to Soldier Field. This was the site for last Saturday’s game between the Fighting Illini and the 19th-ranked Huskies.

The game also represented an opportunity for the Illini to take a big step towards being considered a legitimate Big Ten title contender. While the arm of Nathan Scheelhaase had dazzled through two games and the defense had put up a good effort in its second game, there was still the old, “yeah but” attached to this team of “who have they really played?”

Beating a top-25 team on a neutral site, however neutral you want to actually consider a stadium in the same state, would have sold this team to a few more people. However, the Illini came up short 34-24. That defense that gave up 34 points in Week 1 at home to the FCS Southern Illinois Salukis once again struggled.

Going into the conference schedule, the defense isn’t an strained Achilles’ tendon for Illinois. It’s a compound fracture that is bleeding badly.

492.7. That’s the average number of yards of total offense the Illini defense has allowed through three games. That breaks down to an average of 6.5 yards per play ran against Illinois’ defense, and a staggering 12.9 yards per pass completion.

With the offense that head coach Tim Beckman has brought along, a massive improvement defensively isn’t necessarily a must. The Illini are averaging scoring 37 points per game and 437.7 yards of offense per game. Scheelhaase is so far having the best season of his career with 884 yards and seven touchdowns through the air and another touchdown on the ground so far.

Running backs junior Donovonn Young and sophomore Josh Ferguson have been an effective combination. Ferguson has also proven to be a valuable receiver out of the back field with seven catches for 185 yards. Senior wide receiver Ryan Lankford and junior wide receiver Martize Barr both have 10 catches.

If the Illinois defense can cut that yardage down to under 400 and the points to under 30, the Illini offense will have a good shot to score enough points to win the game. Doing that against offenses like Ohio State‘s will be difficult, but if the Illini are to make the trip to Indianapolis in December, it’s what they will have to do.

Derek Helling is a Big 10 football writer for Follow him on Twitter @DRokSH, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google+.

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