Illinois 24, Ball State 21 | Champaign, Ill.
Hey, when you're trying to build the resume of a program, you take any win you can get – no matter what it looks like – and deem it “beautiful. Those getting wrapped up in the concept that Illinois had to rally, at home, against less-than-middling MAC squad could deal with a dose of “glass half full” vantage point. Message being, the Illini did rally. They did win, even if that meant needing to block a FG attempt to avoid OT. Case closed.
2. Oh, how we missed ye
Mike Dudek ... wow. It's like the guy never skipped a beat, despite missing the last two seasons due to knee injuries. In this one, he electrified the crowd every time he touched the ball. Shredded and super quick, the junior receiver looked every bit the All-American he was as a freshman, registering two catches for 47 yards, one being a 31-yarder and the other a 16-yard TD, and three punt returns that totaled 55 yards. His final one, in fact, went for 52 yards and set up the game-winning TD with just more than two minutes to go.
3. Star in the making
For all the talk about Kendrick Foster after his breakout season in 2016, it was true freshman Mike Epstein who stole the show in the Illini backfield against Ball State. Showing a knack for finding the hole and hitting it just right, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., product tallied 54 yards and two scores on 11 carries, and added 32 more yards on two catches. Also returned a kickoff 19 yards. Not sure anything more could be asked of the youngster. He delivered. Big time.
4. Opposite ends of the spectrum
Umm, wasn't the new QB's athleticism the reason for some excitement about the offense? Thing is, Chayce Crouch dude showed a little something in limited duty last season before getting injured. He showed next to nothing in this one, though – especially since he only carried the ball once for two yards ... Conversely, LBs Del'Shawn Phillips (game-high 16 tackles, half sack) and Tre Watson (12 tackles, interception, fumble recovery) showed out something fierce.
5. Hail to the Orange ... and Blue
Not for nothing, but, damn, not seeing any unis sweeter than the Illini's orange helmet-blue-jersey-orange pants getup. Gotta give Nike credit on this one. Didn't “Oregon” Illinois into hideousness. Slam dunk that it's the best combo the Illini have, but they got other quality ones, too – home and away.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com