Barker did have at least a couple of key blocks on the edge in the run game.Positives
1. Run defense was infinitely better than the previous years. Nebraska, particularly Martinez, has given Illinois fits in the past. The 75-yard run play was a killer but Illinois only allowed 4.1 ypc even with the long run. No other Cornhusker RB averaged more than 3.3 ypc.
2. The first drive of the second half was a work of art. Most satisfying offensive drive since.....? Winning drive against MSU in 2019? Finally drive against tOSU in 2007?
3. Good to see Luke Ford unshackled from a poor-fitting offense. Barker didn't get involved but I'm confident he will next week. It's been a struggle to get traditional athletes at Illinois since Zook left. Seemed obvious to have an offensive system leaning into TE play. We finally have one. Ford also impressed as a run blocker.
4. This game was the least amount of points allowed by Illinois against a Big Ten team since last year at Rutgers. If you take Rutgers out of the running? 2019 against Purdue. Take out Rutgers and games played in a downpour? You have to go back to 2015 against Nebraska (G-Mo game).
5. I said this in another post but it bears repeat. Sitkowski posted the best QBR rating for an Illinois QB since 2015 against Kent State (Lunt against Kent State). Best Illinois QB performance in six years. What a game by him.
6. Very few penalties. Nice benefit of having a number of experienced starters.
7. PFF had Jake Hansen as the highest ranked defender by a lot. He really lifts the floor of the defense and softens the blow of losing Hart. He keeps having weeks like this and he'll be an NFL draft pick.
8. Was really geeked to see the defensive line create pressure throughout the game. Randolph is going to be good. Coleman with a timely sack. Perry really not only elevates the run defense but also can generate pressure. Newton had some hurries. Great job all around.
9. Special teams is going to be such a weapon this year. Only blemish was a missed 55-yarder that had plenty of leg.
10. Refreshing that Brown was dinged up and I was comfortable with Epstein and Love carrying the rushing game. Happy for Epstein to come back and provide such a lift for the run game in week 1.
11. It's only one game but feeling a little better about the corners. Witherspoon's play is going to make teams consider looking more towards Tony Adams' side. Nicholson played fantastic and might have been the best Illinois corner today. There were a number of plays where Martinez had time and couldn't find an open receiver.
12. I know it's easy to dunk on Lovie right now. I appreciate that he walked into a tough situation and helped improve the talent on the roster. Bielema and his staff now come in and are able to harness the personnel to a better-fitting system. Bielema completely out-coached Frost. Better coaching and excellent special teams can create wider margins for success.
1. Martinez made Illinois pay for some blown coverage (and failed to capitalize on others). It was bound to happen with a new scheme. Gotta minimize these. Probably not a big concern next week (UTSA was 99th in passing yard/game last year) but it will be a concern against Virginia (first road game, UVA was 47th in passing yards/game last year).
2. Guards struggled badly to start the game. Coaching staff started making swaps as the game progressed. Palczewski and Badinovac were especially bad pass blocking on the right side. This offense will go as the running game goes. Need to find some success against UTSA.
3. Please be healthy for a couple of weeks. It goes without saying but it's not sustainable to lose two starters per game. Also have Slaughter out for the season, no Hightower, no Armstrong, no Beason, limited Brown. Let's get a couple healthy games under their belt and see if a couple of these guys can come back and contribute.
4. Hart injury could be especially problematic because Illinois blitzed a lot more than we saw under Lovie. Hart was the only LBer that provided at least a decent pass rush score (via PFF). Losing him for an extended period could limit their blitzing options (or at least their effectiveness).
5. WR corps outside of Washington and Williams was underwhelming. Navarro had a costly fumble. Great catch for Spann but not a good sign that a converted QB has the most important catch of the game after only a handful of practices at the position.