The Lines are Breaking Down

<p>During the first five games of the season it's been easy to mention the "skill" of the players on offense and defense. The usual guys get their names mentioned in the paper or Sport Center for how many yards QB Jon Beutjer passed for, how many receiving yards Kelvin Hayden caught, or how many big plays freshman E.B. Halsey made.

Everyone has an opinion why the Ilini are struggling this year: coaching, quarterback play is too inconsistent, receivers drop too many passes, can't tackle, and players miss assignments. Saturday's game against Wisconsin proved to me that while some of those things may be true, the Illini's lack of power up-front (offense and defense) is their glaring weakness.

Regardless of whether you saw the game on television or at Memorial Stadium, the size difference between the two teams was obvious. Wisconsin played "smash mouth" football and pounded the ball right down the Illini back. Wisconsin's signal caller Jim Sorgi threw 12 passes and completed 7 of them. That's right - 12 passes - and managed to score 38 points on Saturday. If Dwayne Smith wasn't a Heisman candidate, he may become one after his 34 rushes for 193 yards. What was depressing about Smith's numbers was the fact that the Illini defense was designed to stop the run on Saturday. The numbers tell the story: total net yards - Wisconsin 438, Illinois 271; rushing - Wisconsin 307, Illinois 64.

In the Big Ten if you can't run the ball effectively you are not going to win. The lines don't get the credit they deserve, but they are a huge part of a good football team. I don't think it's a matter of talent; it's surely size and strength.

Halsey is one of the best running backs in the conference this season, but the lack of holes provided for him will take its toll come November. With his ability to make players miss, Halsey should average a 100 yards per game. If this problem doesn't get taken care of, the Illini will continue to struggle this season. We know what kind of quarterback Beutjer can be, but when you are rushed to throw most times out, you can't get into that rhythm that most quarterbacks like. Therefore it appears he's missing guys that are open.

The lack of pressure in the opposing team's backfield is another concern. You just knew Saturday that when the Badgers needed to complete their 3rd down, it was just a matter of how many yards they wanted. Wisconsin was 10-15 on 3rd downs Saturday.

In addition to the line struggles are the blown opportunities to score points. Six times this young season the Illini have made it to the red zone, only to move back due to false starts. During the Missouri and UCLA games, it cost them points that could have won the game.

Maybe, just maybe, when the Illini travel to West Lafayette on Saturday to face the Purdue Boilermakers, they will pressure QB Klye Orton; they won't have the crucial false starts; and they won't allow them to complete 67% of their 3rd downs.

Regardless of how frustrated you are as a fan, no one feels worse than the players and coaches themselves. Throwing your remote or saying those "nice" things to your television is only half the pain the team feels.

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