CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The Illinois defense is giving the team a chance to win games, especially in the trenches. The Illini are 7th in the country in rushing defense, allowing an average of just 37 yards per game to opponents on the ground. The passing defense is where the Illini feel like the biggest improvement can be made heading into Saturday’s third game of the season against Eastern Michigan.
“Just too many passing yards,” Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. “The takeaways were big, Mike Marchese getting an interception. Dele Harding, big interception by him, but we could have done some more. We need to correct a few more things in the passing game.”
Illinois allowed Connecticut true freshman quarterback Jack Zergiotis to complete 21 of his 31 passes for 275 yards in his debut. It was an uptick from the opener, when Akron had just 128 yards. Injuries are one of the biggest reasons for concern, with starting safety Sydney Brown not on the trip to Hartford, still recovering from a serious hamstring injury. Fellow starting safety Tony Adams got hurt against the Huskies, while Kerby Joseph had to sit out the first half after getting a targeting penalty against the Zips. That paved the way for Stanley Green to start, but he was flagged for targeting in the first half at UConn, meaning he had to sit out the second half. Brown and Adams’ status remain unclear heading into Saturday’s game against EMU, but Smith did say Brown in progressing. Regardless of who plays, the defensive backfield, and primarily the safeties, need to play better to give the Illini a chance to win moving forward.
“Since we gave up a couple more pass yards than we should have in the last game, I think it’ll be a great challenge for us this week in practice in cleaning those up,” Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen said.