Despite all the feel-goods going around in the early part of the season, with the Illini knocking such heavyweights as Kent State and Western Illinois while interim head coach Bill Cubit glad-handed his way into favor with fans and administrators, the reality was, and remains, that the Orange & Blue have some holes and serious team speed issues (may not be a slower back 7 in all of college football), and, frankly, not always the greatest play-calling on game days. Yeah, Cubit is likable and his son seems to be as well, but neither show any ability to get away from high-risk, low-reward calls, especially on third down. This has been a weakness of the elder Cubit these eyes have witnessed for almost two decades, and it just has not changed. It’s not going to, and AD Mike Thomas and/or whoever is calling the shots on the team’s next permanent might want to really let that sink in before offering the job to Cubit.
2. Time for a change
For me, the Wes Lunt Experience should be shelved for good. He may have an NFL arm, and be robot-like in following the mindset of his coaches, but the college game has passed those of his ilk by. He’s a statue whose limitations are magnified if a pocket isn’t perfect or a receiver doesn’t have stick-’um hands. He can’t run, can’t avoid pressure, and, really, can’t think quick enough on his feet to make something out of nothing even with his arm. Yeah, he can throw a really nice spiral and he seems a very nice young man, but unless the Illini are working on putting together an offensive line comprised of All-Pros and a smash-mouth ground game to complement the air attack, the best this program is ever gonna get with a QB like Lunt is to a level of mediocrity. Athleticism and improvisation are musts at that position for a program such as the Illin’s, which does not reel in blue-chip OL right and left. Think back to last year, do you really think Lunt gets that team to a bowl game if he stays healthy? Not a chance. Reilly O’Toole made that happen.
3. Anyone besides Fej wanna play some D?
Maybe it’s me, but keeping Mason Monheim and T.J. Neal at the starting LB spots is a complete waste of time. The former is too slow and the latter, it’s weird, like he lacks any semblance of “pop” when he arrives to hit an opposing player. They both get lost in blocks. They’re just not, well, starting-caliber Big Ten LBs. Sorry, they’re not. Somehow the D registered 3 sacks of Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, but you almost wonder if “Hack” likes the contact or something. For a guy who actually can move, he’s a sack-me machine. Heck, Temple got him 10 times in the season opener. All in all, it’s just getting to be a redundant refrain – Illini D gets pushed around, but FS Clayton Fedejelem racks up some ungodly number of tackles. The former walk-on, fresh off a career-best 19-stop effort last week, posted a game-high 13 against the Nittany Lions and forced a fumble.
4. Progress, anyone?
Piggy-backing No. 1 a bit, albeit late, it’s starting to become a little fuzzier if the Illini are better under Cubit than they were under Tim Beckman. Yeah, it did seem they were solid even in conference losses to Iowa and Wisconsin, but, you know what, they’ve now been embarrassed twice this season – first at North Carolina (48-14) almost two months ago and now this debacle at State College. Even Beckman would be blanching at those. No doubt injuries to the likes of WR Mike Dudek and RB Josh Ferguson have hurt. But Geronimo Allison has been one of the Big Ten’s best receivers while taking over Dudek’s No. 1 role and, well, it’s kinda tough to replace, or fill in, for Ferguson if you’re not going to commit to running the ball more than a dozen or so times a game.
5. There was a positive
The uniforms, once again, were dynamite. The blue-white-blue combo the Illini treated those in the stands and those at home to … well, it was nothing short of magnificent. Clean, clear lines, with the orange numerals adding some serious eye-catching quality, wow, they actually challenged one of the college game’s great home attires for “best dressed.” If you ask me, the Illini actually won there. Of course, that was the only category in which they did.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com