CHAMPAIGN — Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, rush offense and is 11th in total offense. A big reason for that has been the play of the offensive line, which, like most of the team, has dealt with injuries and shuffling players in and out of the lineup.
“Obviously, I’m not happy with how we have performed,” offensive line coach Luke Butkus said. “These kids are giving great effort, and they go out on the field and they bust their butt every day; that’s where it all starts. I’m proud of the way they’re fighting, but there’s still a lot of stuff we need to clean up.”
In the last four weeks, the Illini were without a few mainstays on the line. Senior Graham Pocic missed the Charleston Southern and Louisiana Tech games with an injury. Fellow senior Hugh Thornton left the Louisiana Tech game after a half with an injury and missed the Penn State game. He returned for the second quarter of last week’s game at Wisconsin and declared himself 100 percent entering Saturday’s game at Michigan.
“Today was the first day that both of them were 100 percent,” coach Tim Beckman said.
In last week’s loss at Wisconsin, running backs Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young combined to rush 11 times for 16 yards. They carried 11 times for 67 yards against Penn State, 52 coming on one run by Young.
“You can hand it to anybody, but you’ve got to be blocking the people up front,” Beckman said. “We’re trying to get better on that offensive line, trying to do things that we can be successful doing with the front and the personnel we have.”
Young expressed some frustration after the latest loss, but he said it didn’t stem from any individual disappointment.
“It’s not necessarily that I want the ball, I just want to see us do better,” he said. “If we would have won, I wouldn’t care, four carries, I wouldn’t have cared. Losing, not executing, it’s tough.”
Hawthorne uncertain. Cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who left the game against the Badgers in an ambulance after a big hit, did not practice with the team Tuesday. The senior was on the field, going through a battery of tests to determine if he suffered a concussion, Beckman said.
Hawthorne will continue to undergo tests, and Beckman said he must go through a full practice before he can return to action.