2. The passing numbers are lame and attributed to QB Wes Lunt and his core of WRs, but, really, they belong to Cubit and his son and fellow play-calling czar, Ryan – neither of whom has met an aerial show they didn’t like, even if it were going backward. Against the Blue Raiders, Lunt started relatively hot and then cooled significantly. The fact he never reheated whatsoever following the team’s second series did nothing to derail the Cubits from calling 51 pass plays that dropped to 49 courtesy of the immobile Lunt being sacked twice. Before tossing an incompletion to end that second series of the day, Lunt was 7-for-10 for 92 yards and a TD. Starting with that misconnection, he went 22-for-39 the rest of the way for just 146 yards. That’s a measly 3.7 yards per attempt. That’s ridiculous. It’s not even worth throwing the ball if that’s all the yardage it yields, especially when the running game was averaging 4.6 yards per pop (36 carries for 167 yards) when Lunt wasn’t involved.
3. Speaking of the ground attack, the Cubits deserve some kudos for utilizing freshman Ke’Shawn Vaughn right out of the chute this season. One of the more ballyhooed prospects in Beckman’s final recruiting class, he is justifying all the talk with 52 carries, 227 yards and two TDs through four weeks as Josh Ferguson’s understudy. Though he doesn’t have the shake-and-back elusiveness of his senior mentor, Vaughn is slightly bigger and runs with a purpose, and the Illini benefitted greatly from his 13-carry, 80-yard effort Saturday that included an 8-yard TD late in the third quarter to push the hosts’ lead to 24-12. The Cubits, however, also deserve criticism for not relying on Vaughn, Ferguson and others running the ball when CLEARLY that part of the offense is working better than the passing game.
4. While placekicker Taylor Zalewski remains a hit-or-miss proposition, his 51-yard FG with 2:09 to play made this win possible. Honestly, his somewhat erratic tendency is not a major problem, but the defense getting torched for 330 yards by a Conference USA QB is. Brent Stockstill completed 29 of 42 passes, three of them going for scores, in process of piling up all that yardage. Frankly, he looked better than Lunt, and didn’t exactly look great, either. It was nice to see Dawuane Smoot get a couple sacks and LBs Mason Monheim and T.J. Neal combine for 27 tackles, but you almost have to discount the positives with this group because it allowed a lesser light to stay in the picture all game, not to mention drive downfield in the final minutes to put itself in a legit position to win. That’s not good. MT shouldn’t be within two TDs of the Illini, never mind two points. Furthermore, what does it say about the overall scheme AND performance of the D (and recruiting efforts) when its star player, Clayton Fejedelem, is a former walk-on and just racked up 12 tackles from the free safety spot?
5. Can’t say enough positives about the uniform combo selection. Seriously. It seems like two decades have passed since the Illini busted out the classic orange-blue-orange look, and it was great to see. The team looked sharp and tough, just in its gear. Now if its performance had matched the likes of say, Simeon Rice or Red Grange, it actually would have been sharp and tough. Regardless, the O-B-O at home is as “Illini” as the Illini can get, and it would be fantastic if they made that their staple attire at Memorial Stadium. The white-blue-white seen earlier this season was sharp, too, and the white-orange-white worn so often last season was decent, but O-B-O is the way to go. If nothing else, though, avoiding the all-white or all-orange getups would be most wise, although the jury is still out on an all-blue since it has yet to be unveiled, if, indeed, it ever were to be. Frankly, though not the biggest fan of Nike, which came up with the unis, or the “victory badge” it created to go with the rebrand, gotta give two thumbs to what it produced here. The Illini look great in many combos, even the ones not favored here.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org