CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — Illinois football is in the crosshairs of its season at the midway point and after a disappointing 2-4 start, the Illini are searching for answers. This isn’t how most predicted Illinois would follow-up its best season in 15 years but heading into the second week of October, the team still has yet to win a Big Ten game.
It’s a far cry from this time last year, when the Illini were 5-1 and ranked for the first time since 2011. Offense continues to be an issue and major hurdle, with the Illini ranked 119th in the country averaging just 19.2 points per game. Defensively the team has made progress after a slow start, holding Nebraska to 312 yards, a new season low in total yards for the Illini. But it’s still a huge step back from last season, when Illinois had the No. 1 scoring defense in the country allowing just 12.8 points per game. In six games this season, Illinois has already allowed more points (173) than all of last year’s 13 games combined (166).
Illinois defensive tackle Johnny Newton has continued to be a steady presence for the Illini, leading the nation in QB pressures among interior defensive lineman with 24, according to PFF. The preseason All-American says he’s doing his best to stay positive through adversity.
“My team looks to me as a leader,” Newton said. “The young guys look up to me on the team, so just me being me, honestly. I work hard every day, give it all I got. Come in with a great attitude and just try to spread joy through the building. Even through the darkest times, I try to spread positivity to bring everybody else up. Just realizing that there’s more life in the season. The first few games didn’t go as we wanted to. We can flip the switch whenever we want to.”
Illinois visits Maryland Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in a nationally televised game on NBC. The Terps (5-1, 2-1 B1G) are coming off their first loss of the season in a 37-17 game at Ohio State.