Northwestern will host a reeling Illinois team on Senior Day. Illinois started the season 3-2, but the Fighting Illini have lost five of six and haven’t looked particularly competitive in doing so. It feels like we write this sad preview year after year. Here we are again; below you can find three non-HAT related things to know about Illinois:
Illinois just suffered a historically-bad loss
Iowa came into Champaign and absolutely drubbed Illinois, 63-0. The nine-touchdown deficit matched the worst loss in Illinois history, a 63-0 defeat at the hands of UChicago in 1906. Iowa outgained Illinois 400-231 and turned the Fighting Illini over four times. It was sad.
Here’s the student section to start the second half of Illinois’ 2018 Senior Day. Yikes pic.twitter.com/6zFBECaDYB— TK (@TKissack20) November 17, 2018
Illinois has earned four wins in Lovie Smith’s third season, but the Fighting Illini are 4-26 in Big Ten play, leading some to question if Lovie is the right guy for the job. Smith and Co. can’t earn a bowl berth this year, but a win over Northwestern would earn Lovie some brownie points.
The Fighting Illini boast one of the best rush attacks in the country
Illinois isn’t a good team by any stretch of the imagination, but the Fighting Illini have an elite ground game. They’re second in the Big Ten in rushing with 251.1 yards per game and Bill Connelly puts them at seventh in the country by Rushing S&P+. Illinois lost Mike Epstein nearly a month ago, and 1,000-yard rusher Reggie Corbin appeared to re-aggravate a foot injury last week, but the team boasts a stable of capable runners. That includes quarterback A.J. Bush, who has been pretty terrible as a thrower, but has rushed for 775 yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore Ra’Von Bonner stepped in at running back following Corbin’s injury and managed 111 yards against an excellent Iowa run defense.
But the Illinois defense is really, really bad
The rushing attack has kept Illinois in most of its games, but the ineptitude of the Fighting Illini defense means many Big Ten contests have turned into track meets. Illinois has surrendered an average of 56.3 points per game in its six Big Ten losses and has not held an opponent under 20 points in six weeks. Opponents can slice up Illinois through the air or on the ground: Illinois boasts the worst pass and run defense in the Big Ten. Illinois has a couple playmakers on defense, including lineman Bobby Roundtree, who has 8.5 sacks this year, but this is not a good unit.