Illinois’ Defensive Past Could Be Key To Future

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been an issue the Illinois football team’s defense has had for the past two years. The defense can’t stop any offense has created issues for the whole team. But during three quarters of the team’s loss to Iowa, it did created an opportunity for the team to win, something it needs to do in the two remaining games.

After three quarters on Saturday, the Hawkeyes only led 16-7, but had given up 480 yards. The defense made a couple of red zone fourth down stops, created a turnover and took advantage of a missed field goal. Despite the high totals, Illinois was in the game, and the offense didn’t take advantage.

Iowa would finish with 587 total yards, 304 rushing and 283 passing, and would score 14 points in the fourth quarter, but after a while, the defense was just gassed — Iowa possessed the ball for 35:46. Despite the high numbers, the defense was saving the game.

The fourth quarter and total numbers from the game represent the season for the Illini. They have spent the entire season in the bottom of most defensive categories in the Big Ten. The team ranks last in total defense and rushing defense and ranks 11th in pass defense.

Opposing teams average 493.5 yards against Illinois. The defense has allowed 4,935 yards, 42 touchdowns and 6.3 yards per play. Big Ten running backs circle the Illini when they appear in the schedule. Rushers average 5.3 yards per rush and 266.9 rushing yards per game and have run for 2,669 yards and scored 25 touchdowns.

Another key that the team said it had to improve on at the beginning of the season were turnovers. It has forced nine turnovers this season but has only intercepted the ball four times, which is worst in the Big Ten.

Despite all of the negativity, there was a golden moment for the defense. In the team’s 28-24 win against Minnesota, the defense had its best game of the season. In it, it limited running back David Cobb to just 118 yards. The defense allowed 411 total yards against the Gophers, 240 passing and 171 rushing, and only allowed 24 points. It made the key stops when it needed to and let a Reilly O’Toole-led offense.

The Illini face a lot of pressure heading into the final two weeks of the season with a 4-6 record, the team needs two more wins to qualify for a bowl. More importantly, it’s believed that the team needs to qualify for a bowl game if head coach Tim Beckman wants to keep his job. At his weekly news conference on Monday, Beckman said that the team will need to reach eight wins next year to do better than this year’s team who should finish with seven wins, including a bowl win.

If Illinois wants to make what Beckman says true, the defense will need to make the stops like it did against Minnesota and it did for three quarters against Iowa. If it does so, it will present a chance for Wes Lunt and the offense to win the game, and maybe the season.