Heading into Rantoul, there were a few things I really wanted to watch so I could see how the Illini have progressed since the end of last season.
- Who between Chris Pazan and Brad Bower looked the best and who I thought should be the backup quarterback to Jon Beutjer?
- How the various lines would play, and who would get the most push, the offense or the defense?
- What was "new" about this defense?
- How will some of the true and red shirt freshman look on the field?
THE BACK UP QUARTERBACK "BATTLE"
I don't know if it really was a battle, because Bower was the only one of the two that showed me anything. Every one that reads this site and the football board frequently knows that I have a penchant to prefer more athletic and mobile quarterbacks, and that is just what Bower was on Saturday night. Turner called a few bootlegs for Bower that Brad turned into big yardage on the ground. I was shocked to see Bower running as much as he was, but I think it was the best sign of the future. It sort of told me Turner would adjust his offense for a quarterback that could throw and run with the ball.
Brumby's advantage goes to Brad Bower.
THE LINE PLAY
There has been a lot made in the last year about the red shirt freshmen Illinois has on the offensive line, but they were all on the second string offensive line. The Illini offensive line looks much like it did last year, but each player now has an extra year of seasoning. The Illini defensive front seven did not get to Beutjer, and the Illini running backs had some decent sized holes to run in. The problem is you cannot tell if that is from improvement in the offensive line, or just because they were playing against our defensive line.
I don't think there will be many problems for the Illini offensive line against the weaker opponents on the schedule, but when the Illini start to face teams in the Big Ten like Purdue, Wisconsin, and Michigan teams could be declaring open season on Illini quarterbacks again. I had hoped to see more of a dominance in the trenches from this offensive line against this defense, and I just did not see it.
THE "NEW" DEFENSE
Well, the defense was new. They played a pretty basic scheme for the night, but that is to be expected in a scrimmage like this. Jon Beutjer and the first team offense pretty much tore up the Illini's first team defense, especially in the air. Kendrick Jones and Lonnie Hurt had free reign in the Illini secondary, but that also coincided with a lot of time for Beutjer and the receivers to find the soft spot in the defense. There in lies the rub … I think the cornerbacks and safeties would be average were they not buckled with a defensive line that just simply cannot get pressure on the quarterback. If you give any quarterback all the time in the world in the pocket, they will find an open receiver.
The defense is tough to read, and with the Illini playing three pass-first teams in the pre-season, I don't think we will have a read on the defense until the Big Ten season. Purdue will be the first team Illinois sees that can run the ball up the gut on the defense, so that will be the first true test. Good signs against Florida A & M, UCLA, and Western Michigan will not do much to calm my nerves over this defense, I will need to see it against a Big Ten opponent.
HOW DID THE NEW PLAYERS LOOK
- Brock Bolen: Bolen played pretty well for the Illini. He had quite a few carries where he took the first hit and then gained five or six extra yards. I believe he scored one touchdown on a rather short run.
- Xavier Fulton: The true freshman had one sack in the second half when it was pretty much the second teamers against each other. I was shocked at how small he appeared to be without pads.
- Jason Reda: The kicker out of Rock Island looked pretty good, in both warm-ups and in the game. I believe he made all four field goals he attempted, but I am not positive on the actual number of field goals. He also kicked off once and put the ball to just about the goal line (it was caught at the 2 on the run by the kick returner).
- Sam Carson III: The freshman linebacker had the hit of the night when he stood up Marcus Mason on a running play up the middle in the "second half."
- EB Halsey, Travis Williams, and Spencer Jensen were lining up as the punt returners. I don't know if I like Illinois' best player (in my opinion) EB lining up to return punts. He is too valuable to the Illini offense to risk an injury on a punt return, especially when you have other players that are more than capable of returning punts.
- On what I think was the first pass of the night, Beutjer hit a wide open Kendrick Jones, but he dropped the ball. Kendrick did redeem himself, though by making two very difficult catches on the only other two balls thrown his way, one of which resulted in a touchdown.