What You Need To Know About The Illinois Defense
– Just like the offensive side, the defense went way, way young. Now the payoff has to come, with nine of the top ten tacklers returning – eight of them were underclassmen – a bulk of the sack production back, and a whole lot of upside and potential for a group that finished allowing 418 yards and 31.5 points per game. Getting a little more help from the offensive side would be nice, too, to keep the D off the field.
– Losing Tre Watson to transfer stinks, but the back seven should be solid. Watson was third on the team in tackles, but the linebacking corps has hope around leading-hitter Del’Shawn Phillips. The way, way, way young secondary that went with a full-blown underclassmen movement wasn’t bad – allowing under 200 yards per game – and they can all hit.
– The production has to start happening behind the line. It was understandable that the defense struggled with all the young players being thrown out there, but it wasn’t okay that the D wasn’t aggressive enough. There needed to be more disruption, but there were a mere 19 sacks, 53 tackles for loss, and not enough takeaways as the season went on.
The defense came up with 14 takeaways in the first seven games, and just five over the last five.
Biggest Key To The Illinois Defense
Get nastier against the run. The lack of production behind the line had a whole lot to do with the overall stats, but for the second year in a row, the defensive front got hammered on. The secondary had to make way too many plays against teams that had no problems running at will.
The Illini gave up 219 rushing yards per game, allowed over 300 yards three times, 292 to Minnesota, and now have allowed 160 yards or more on the ground in 20 of the program’s last 21 games.