Illinois 52, Kent State 3
Illinois (1-0) simply dominated Kent State (0-1) in a season opener that was delayed a day due to lightning on Friday. The Illini's 28 first-quarter points were the most in the opening quarter for the program since 1960 (as far as the quarter-by-quarter scoring records go back). The Illini's 38 first-half points were the most for the Illini since scoring 38 in the first half at California in 2001. Quarterback Wes Lunt was so good (11-for-19, 162 yards, four touchdowns, 199 passer rating) that he played just one second-half series. Josh Ferguson (97 total yards on 13 touches, two touchdowns) looked dangerous. The Illini defense didn't allow a touchdown and forced four turnovers. Kick/punt returner V'Angelo Bentley shortened the field, and the Illini kickers were flawless. Unlike last season during nonconference play, Illinois' second-stringers received extensive reps in the second half. The Illini paid $600,000 to Kent State to make the trip to Champaign. They got their money's worth.
What it means
Illinois dealt with two unprecedented events the last two days: head coach Tim Beckman's dismissal on Aug. 28 and the postponement of Friday night's season opener. But Illinois shoved that aside and took care of business, completely dismantling the inferior Golden Flashes from the opening kick. After an offseason of turmoil -- and an extra day of waiting -- Illinois looked like a focused and determined group. The Illini will try to repeat and build on that performance after a week of a normal routine.
What went right
The Illini offense put up a bunch of points, but the Illini offense was expected to be good -- especially against teams like Kent State. But the defense was the biggest bright spot. The Illini picked off three passes in the first 19 minutes of the game. It intercepted seven passes all of last season. The defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing just 59 rushing yards on 39 attempts. In last season's opener, FCS opponent Youngstown State ran for 203 yards against the Illini and took a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter. The defense should get plenty of assists for the Illini scoring too. Of the Illini offense's first five scoring drives, none were longer than 38 yards thanks to the four forced turnovers -- and Bentley's returns. Lunt gives the Illini a high ceiling, but an improved defense would give the Illini a much higher floor.
What went wrong
The Illini starters committed six penalties for 60 yards in the first half, several the result of illegal formations. The offense has many younger players, especially at wide receiver, running back and tight end, who must get quickly adjusted to the finer points of formations and motion. The Illini inside run game also is a concern. The Illini offensive line -- more skilled than nasty -- did not get much of a push up front. The Illini receivers also dropped a couple passes that kept Lunt's stats from being even more impressive.
Star of the game
Taylor Barton. The junior safety led the Illini in tackles (6) and tackles for loss (2.5). He also hauled in an interception and broke up a pass. Barton made a huge leap from a poor freshman season and a solid sophomore season. He is one of many juniors the Illini must now rely on, and he looked better than reliable on Saturday. He looked like a playmaker.
The Illini host FCS opponent Western Illinois for what should be another paid-for victory. The Leathernecks (1-0) dominated Eastern Illinois 33-5 in the season opener, but the Illini are bigger, stronger and faster, and Lunt should have another field day.