The Illinois Passing Game:
Wes Lunt completed 35 of his 50 passes in the game for a total of 456 yards, 4th most in a single game in Illinois history. What was more impressive, though, was how he spread the ball around to an array of receivers.
Of the eight Illini receivers who caught passes, Lunt hit six different receivers at least three times each in the game. What's even more impressive is that every one of those receivers averaged at least ten yards per catch with the exception of Malik Turner who just missed the mark at 9.3 yards per catch.
Two receivers in particular, Geronimo Allison and Justin Hardee, had great games. Hardee led the Illini with 6 catches for 110 yards and a key touchdown late in the game while Allison collected 8 catches for 97 yards and made numerous key grabs for first downs.
Coming into the game, Western Kentucky was the hot passing offense, but on Saturday, Illinois turned up the passing game a few notches and aired it out especially well.
Converting on Turnovers:
On the first drive of the game, Illinois turned a bad snap on the WKU punt into seven points in a hurry. Though not a turnover, being able to make something out of that gift was a theme for the game.
However, two fumble recoveries by Jarrod Clements and V'Angelo Bentley and a huge pick-six by Taylor Barton brought the defense to life in the game. Illinois has struggled mightily to create turnovers. On Saturday they not only created them, but made Western Kentucky pay for them.
The Illinois offense moved the ball almost at will on Saturday. That is, until it got inside the 20. The Illini's momentum slowed down drastically when they got close to the goal line for much of the game.
Most notably, the inability to punch the ball into the endzone on three straight runs at the goal line is something the coaches will point to as a big missed opportunity.
Another case, a bizarre play nonetheless, was Malik Turner getting stripped at the 5 yard line and Wonderful Terry (I still can't get over that name) returning the ball all the way for a touchdown. Western Kentucky scored in both of those scenarios, and the momentum and points swing would have undoubtedly cost them against a more formidable opponent.
Outside Contain Defense:
Now, to be fair, this did improve as the game went on, but early in the game, the Illinois defense was having a rough time containing plays out in the flat. Western Kentucky was regularly getting the edge and fighting their way to first downs.
As Illinois rotated a little more speed in at linebacker and the safeties adjusted their coverage toward the end of the game, they started to shut that area down more, but teams with great speed on the outside could present a challenge for Illinois if they don't consistently maintain discipline in that defensive area.
The Kicking Game:
Shocker, right? Well when you kick three kickoffs out of bounds in 2 games and shank field goals from just outside the 30, it tends to put you in the dog house. Taylor Zalewski is in a major funk right now and was immediately replaced by Ryan Frain on kickoffs after yet another out of bounds kick on Saturday.
Illinois has been fortunate so far to not have missed field goals cost them, but with field position being so important and a different type of game coming up in the Big Ten, missing field goals will have much more significant impacts in games and could prove costly sooner rather than later.