CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — The points on scoreboard don’t necessarily show it but the Illinois defense took major strides in a 30-13 loss to Penn State. The Illini held the high powered Nittany Lions offense to just three touchdowns, with 20 of the 30 Penn State points coming off Illinois’ five turnovers. Illini defensive coordinator Aaron Henry isn’t one for moral victories, but after the first two weeks allowing Toledo and Kansas to rack up a combined 955 total yards, keeping the Nittany Lions to 383 and forcing three field goals felt like a win.
“I think these young men, they wanted to be a lot more fundamentally sound and detailed and obviously that was a point we harped on all week,” Henry said. “It wasn’t perfect by no means but I do think the arrow is headed in the up direction as opposed to downward.”
Keeping the quarterback contained, staying in assigned gaps and most importantly stopping the run were the biggest keys to success. By in large the Illini did just that, holding the Nittany Lions to just 162 yards rushing on 40 attempts. Coming into the game PSU was averaging 230 yards on the ground per game.
“Just knowing the system, knowing what you got to do every single play,” Illinois sophomore outside linebacker Alec Bryant said about how he improved defensively last week. “I go out there, I know this defense is a gap scheme defense and we’re kind of gapped out so I have to do my 1-11 if not it could be a touchdown so I just take that into consideration and just do my job every single play.”
Illinois will look to take another step forward defensively on Saturday hosting Florida Atlantic at 2:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network. The Owls are coming off a 48-14 loss to Clemson and have only scored two offensive touchdowns the past two games. FAU also won’t have its starting quarterback after Nebraska transfer Casey Thompson tore his ACL in last week’s loss at Clemson.