2. KEYS TO THE SEASON
Biggest Key To The Illinois Offense
Some consistency to the passing game is a must. The Illini should be able to run with a deep group of running backs and – potentially – the dangerous Isaiah Williams at quarterback along with Brandon Peters, but the O desperately needs the passing attack to do something positive on a regular basis. That comes from getting steady play from the quarterback and more from the receiving corps – neither one is a given – after painfully inefficient year.
The Illini failed to hit half of their passes in four of their last six games, finished with ten touchdown passes and 14 picks. No one’s asking for an Oklahoma-level air show, but simply completing third down throws on a consistent basis and connecting on 60% of throws would make a world of difference.
Biggest Key To The Illinois Defense
Do something right. Lovie Smith was an NFL defensive mastermind, but he can’t seem to get anything to work so far with his Illini. They finished dead last in the Big Ten with the nation’s third-worst D. Bad against the pass, worst against the run, nothing seemed to work.
What’s the identity? What’s he calling card? The Illini improvement starts by getting tougher up front after getting gouged for six yards per carry and 31 scores. Minnesota was the only team in the last seven weeks to not hit the 200-yard mark against a run D that allowed 300 yards or more four times.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Isaiah Williams, Fr.
Brandon Peters might be the Week 1 starter, but Williams is the franchise. The amazing get for the program is being brought in to be an instant savior. MJ Rivers was going to be front and center for the starting job until Williams was ready, but he’s transferring, and Cam Thomas left to go the JUCO route. It’s now Williams to eventually be the one who takes things to a whole other level.
Not all that big, he’s just 5-10 and 170 pounds, but he’s a special all-around baller with slippery speed and a strong enough arm to get Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and any other big name school you can name. He’s the face of Illinois football now, even as the early backup.
Key Game To The Illinois Season
Nebraska, Sept. 21
Step One is to beat Eastern Michigan. That’s the third game of the season, and Illinois hasn’t won its third game of the season since 2012. But if the Illini are any good, they should beat EMU after taking down Akron and UConn to start the season. And then comes the start of the Big Ten season before getting a week off.
Oddly enough considering the two schools are only 500 miles apart, Nebraska and Illinois have only played 16 times, with the Huskers going 7-1 since the 21-21 tie to open the 1953 season. (By the way, Nebraska won the first meeting 6-0 in 1892.) This time, it’s in Champaign, and it could be a big breakthrough moment for the Illini.
– Illinois Schedule Breakdown & Analysis
2018 Illinois Fun Stats
– Field Goals: Illinois 20-of-25 – Opponents 8-of-13
– Fumbles: Illinois 23 (lost 10) – Opponents 14 (lost 5)
– Average Yards Per Game: Opponents 508.3 – Illinois 408.7