Illini football loses wide receiver Lankford for year
After fearing the worst, head coach Tim Beckman confirmed his suspicions Monday by announcing that wide receiver Ryan Lankford is out for the season with a broken bone in his shoulder.
With Lankford sidelined for the season, the Illinois football team will turn to unproven commodities at the wide receiver position this week against Penn State. The Illini moved Devin Church from running back to wide receiver and expect sophomore Justin Hardee and freshman Dionte Taylor to see more playing time.
“Ryan Lankford will make us better as this season continues, just not on the football field,” Beckman said. “He’s a great leader on this football team and will continue to be that.”
In better injury news, the Illini expect to have wide receiver Steve Hull and cornerback V’Angelo Bentley back this week after not having either in a full capacity last week against Michigan State. Hull played a few snaps in an “emergency situation,” but Beckman pulled him out of the game to avoid further injury.
Bentley is dealing with an ankle sprain sustained against Wisconsin and did not play at all against the Spartans. True freshman Jaylen Dunlap started in Bentley’s absence, but it was the sophomore who was again listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart.
Bentley is also the starter on punt and kickoff returns.
Offense trying to get back on track
After setting season lows in points, yards and plays, the Illinois offense is trying to regroup.
Even against the nation’s top defense, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit was not at all happy with his unit’s performance a week ago after the Illini were limited to 3 points, 128 total yards on just 42 plays.
“I don’t remember a game that I’ve coached where we’ve only gotten 42 plays,” Cubit said. “That’s our fault. We’ve got to move the football.”
A goal line stop and a red zone field goal instead of a touchdown mitigated the Illini’s scoring efforts, but other than two long drives, they couldn’t sustain any offensive consistency.
Illinois has an opportunity to regain consistency against a Penn State defense that has surrendered an average of 49 points per game in its last three contests against Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State.
Illini blocking out negative energy as losing streak continues
With three consecutive losses and 18 consecutive conference losses dating back to 2011, the Illini are focusing on the positives moving forward.
“For the past nine weeks, we’ve had a winning record,” Beckman said. “The last three opponents we’ve played are 9-2 in the Big Ten.”
While the identity of the team has been youth and inexperience, Beckman said the older players are the ones needing more of a pick-me-up than younger players because they’ve “been around the losing more.”
The Illini’s conference losing streak now sits at 18 — a program record — and with only five games remaining, Illinois needs three victories to become bowl-eligible.
Stephen can be reached at email@example.com and @steve_bourbon.