Coaches are of a breed that tends to focus on the positives, and Illinois head football coach Tim Beckman is no exception. In his weekly news conference Monday, Beckman pointed to the fact that Illinois has improved offensively and is 3-3, one game better than it was a year ago through six games.
But the glaring negative is the struggling Illini defense.
“Defensively we’re not where we would like to be right now,” Beckman said “We know that we can get better. We have to get better on that side of the ball.”
The Illini currently rank 104th in the nation in total defense, surrendering an average of 454.5 yard per game. At 211 rushing yards surrendered per game, Illinois ranks 106th in rushing defense. Facing two top-10 rushing attacks in its past two games (Wisconsin and Nebraska) certainly didn’t help matters in the stat book.
Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said it all comes down to execution.
“Anytime you lose, you don’t play as well as you wanted to,” Banks said. “There’s a lot of things that need correcting.”
Bentley, Osei uncertain for Saturday
As if a young Illinois secondary needed to get any younger, sophomore defensive back V’Angelo Bentley left Saturday’s game against Wisconsin in the first quarter with an undisclosed left leg injury.
Bentley did not practice Sunday and has been wearing a walking boot. His status for this week’s game against Michigan State is uncertain.
That means true freshmen Jaylen Dunlap and Dillan Cazley will have to step up at defensive back if Bentley can’t play.
Wide receiver Miles Osei also did not return to the game after halftime, suffering a concussion at some point in the first half.
He was taken out of the game after some of his teammates went to Beckman at halftime and said something wasn’t right with him. Beckman went to Osei and asked him if he was all right.
Beckman said Osei “didn’t look right, and he wasn’t speaking all together.”
Beckman said Osei was doing “good” Monday, but his status is uncertain for this Saturday’s Homecoming game.
The injuries create uncertainty on special teams for Illinois. Bentley and Osei are the Illini’s primary kick and punt returners. Beckman said wide receiver Martize Barr and defensive backs Darius Mosely and Caleb Day will vie for punt return duties. Those three along with receiver Ryan Lankford could be handling kickoffs as well.
Spartans top-ranked D
The nation’s best defense, in terms of yards surrendered per game, will make its way to Memorial Stadium this weekend. Michigan State has surrendered only 228 yards and only 13.6 points per game this season and is in the driver’s seat in the Legends Division.
“They’re defense is good, there’s no question about it,” Beckman said. “They’ve got some good players. Their corners are very good coverage guys. Their linebackers have played a lot of football. You can see why they’ve been so successful for so many years on defense.”
The Spartans defense will challenge an Illinois offense that has struggled recently and has particularly struggled early in games.
“If you take the second and fourth quarters, we won,” Beckman said in yet another example of coach’s optimism. “But you don’t just take the second and fourth quarters. You’ve got to take four quarters. We’ve got to start fast for us to be successful.”
Sean can be reached at email@example.com and @sean_hammond.