Turmoil at Illinois? What turmoil?
Fifteen days after the Tim Beckman era abruptly ended at Illinois, the Bill Cubit era is off to an excellent start. The Illini haven't flinched despite the coaching change, taking care of business against weaker opponents in dominant fashion. They outscored Kent State and Western Illinois 82-3 in the first six quarters with Cubit at the helm.
Despite some sloppiness on offense and in the kicking game (four total turnovers) early in the second half, Illinois cruised to a 44-0 win and its third consecutive 2-0 start. Things should get much tougher next week at North Carolina, but at least Illinois will go in with some momentum.
What the win means for Illinois: The Illini needed to build confidence and belief after the coaching change, and they succeeded in two stress-free wins before their first true test next week at North Carolina. Though they had some notable performances on defense and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by Marchie Murdock, the big story once again is a defense that struggled mightily under Beckman. The Illini held WIU to five first downs and 141 total yards. Illinois struggled to run the ball in the first three quarters, an area that must improve against a Gene Chizik-led Tar Heels defense next week. But it's clear the Illini can rely more on their defense this season. Things will get tougher for Cubit's crew, but so far, so good.
What the loss means for Western Illinois: After a easy opening win against Eastern Illinois, the Leathernecks hoped for a better start in Champaign but simply couldn't move the ball against an improved Illini defense. They had some bright spots, notably linebacker Brett Taylor, who recorded a career high in tackles and recovered two fumbles. Their takeaway ability also is a nice building block. The Leathernecks must tighten up their punt protection, an area Illinois coaches felt they could expose and did. WIU already has had three punts blocked this season.
Player of the game: Illinois safety Taylor Barton is quickly establishing himself as a player to watch. Barton recorded two interceptions Saturday, bringing his Big Ten-leading season total to three. He had 54 return yards and the junior showed flashes last season, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Along with cornerback V'Angelo Bentley, Barton gives a potentially suspect secondary another playmaking presence. Illini wide receiver Geronimo Allison (eight catches, 124 yards) merits a mention here.
Stat of the game: The Illini recorded their first shutout since blanking Charleston Southern 44-0 in 2012. They outgained the Leathernecks 500-141.