It all started before the game even
began. We were informed that at least 5 Illini players, including 3
potential starters had been suspended indefinitely and would not be
playing. The Illini were forced to play 3 freshmen in their place.
And even though Kent State is led by a first year coach, that did
not seem to faze them in the slightest.
Kent State had plenty of talent returning and then when QB Woody
Barrett, a former Auburn recruit, got the starting nod, a recipe for
an upset was in the making. The Flashes took advantage of the new
Illini starters as well as the veterans. Barrett was able to find
receivers early and often in their multiple receiver sets. And when
they weren’t burning the Illini DBs, Barrett was running around
them, through them and over them.
In addition to that, when Illinois settled for a field goal on their
first scoring opportunity you feared that Illinois might be in for a
tougher outing and a longer day than you would have preferred.
I don’t know what happened or what was said at halftime, but the
Illini finally got it going in the second half scoring on three
third quarter possessions. New Illini QB A. J. Bush, a graduate
transfer from Virginia Tech, was doing all he could do finishing the
day with 329 yards of total offense. He also just missed on two
other possible td strikes that will have to be made when the
A bevy of Illini running backs also managed to help bring Illinois
back. Ra’Von Bonner punched it in from eight yards out to bring
Illinois within 17-10 after the Illini intercepted a Barrett pass
that went through the hands of his intended receiver. You could
question why the Flashes weren’t just running the football at that
juncture of the game, but the decision played into Illinois’ hands.
Momentum had swung to the Illini especially after Jake Hansen
stopped Kent State on their next possession when they lined up for a
4th and one conversion. He stymied them and the Illini took over.
The Illini scored quickly on a 39 yard run by Reggie Corbin and the
game was tied at 17-17.
On a warm and muggy day it was difficult for either defense to keep
enough energy sustained for long periods of time and they looked
gassed some of the time. Anyway both teams traded touchdowns and it
was 24-24 until the Illini forced a Kent State punt. Mike Dudek
grabbed the punt and returned it 26 yards into Kent State territory.
From there Illinois went to work and it all came together as the
Illini took the lead 31-24 on a one yard touchdown run by Corbin
[to top of second column]
Illinois eventually had the chance to put the game out of reach.
In a trend that is disappointing all too often, the Illini
appeared to go conservative and turned the ball over on downs.
That gave the Kent State offense yet another opportunity to put
together a drive and send the game into overtime. The Illini
defense made a couple of their better defensive plays of the
game once they got inside the Illini 20-yard line and finally
stopped the Flashes when Del’Shawn Phillips stepped in the
passing lane and claimed Illinois’ 2nd interception of the day.
Illinois then was handed one last chance to ice the game. This
time they succeeded.
Because of the missing players, the other players playing out of
position, not knowing if Kent State is good or not, and the fact
that this was the opening game of the season, it’s really hard
to know if the Illini have improved or not. I guess we’ll find
out in the weeks ahead.
What we liked
The mobility, flexibility, and running ability of QB A.J. Bush
That Mikey Dudek is healthy and back ready to play
The running back by committee approach of the Illini
New offensive Coordinator Rod Smith’s sets & play calls
especially in most of the 2nd half
Illinois’ kicking game
What we didn’t like
The bend don’t break defense that gives too much cushion
Illinois’ seemingly yearly penchant for going conservative at
times [we prefer to attack]
Next up a home date with Western Illinois on Saturday night.
[By JEFF MAYFIELD]
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