Special teams consistency. Great on one play. Abysmal the next. That can describe how Illinois looked against the Salukis.
Beat writer Matt Daniels’ four keys for Illinois today:
Reading the keys. You hear it all the time. Defensive coordinator Tim Banks will need his linebackers — here’s looking at you Jonathan Brown, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina and others — to play assignment football with the versatility of Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux. Don’t bite too hard on the play-action. And don’t stay back too long on option runs. “It’s very crucial,” Monheim said. “We’ll be reading a lot of individual guys on their line and their formations. Reading keys is a big part and just playing fast.” Brown led Illinois with nine tackles against Southern Illinois, while Monheim added eight. The linebackers could get a boost with STAR Eric Finney likely to get on the field now that he’s recovered from a knee injury he suffered a month ago. Brown said the defense played “decent” against the Salukis. Decent probably won’t cut it against the Bearcats. “There’s definitely a lot more room for improvement,” Brown said. “I wasn’t satisfied. We kind of let off the gas a little bit and had a couple mental errors, but those are things that we can fix.”
Turnover time. It’s a great way to get the crowd going. And your team. Picking off a pass will do. Forcing multiple fumbles will, too. Illinois forced one against SIU last week, and it resulted in a touchdown. Sometimes football is so simple. Cincinnati showed it was susceptible to giving the ball back, with Legaux being intercepted twice against Purdue. Illinois, though, hasn’t intercepted multiple passes in a game since beating Western Michigan 24-7 in Tim Beckman’s first game at Illinois. Coincidence? Probably not. “That’s the game of football, period,” Beckman said. “If you look week in and week out, it’s the teams that are creating turnovers or taking care of the football. The three years at Toledo that I can talk about we were tops in the country in turnover ratios. It had a lot to do with not turning the football over and gaining turnovers. It’s huge in any game.”
Bring the heat. No sacks by Illinois last week. Tim Kynard at least got close to SIU quarterback Kory Faulkner on a few plays. But not enough to bring him to the Memorial Stadium turf, which measured 109 degrees at one point against the Salukis. “It was a scorcher out there,” Brown said. The surface could approach those temperatures again on a warm and humid day. Bringing either Legaux or Brendon Kay down would be a welcome sight for the Illinois defense. Kynard, Bates, Austin Teitsma and Kenny Nelson all graded out along the defensive line. But Bates knows more is expected. “I think I need to take more on my edges and my takeoffs,” Bates said. “Their (offensive line) is big and athletic. We’re going to have to use our aggressiveness with blitzing to keep them out of their comfort zone. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Special teams consistency. Great on one play. Abysmal the next. That can describe how Illinois looked against the Salukis. Illinois missed five tackles against SIU return man LaSteven McKinney on his 60-yard burst to open the second half. Can’t happen again. V’Angelo Bentley probably made five SIU would-be tacklers miss on his 100-yard kickoff return. Illinois would like to see that happen again. But the shanked punts and missed 32-yard field goals will make fans want to cover their eyes. Justin DuVernois averaged 42.2 yards per punt against SIU but had two poor ones, including one late that gave SIU a chance to send the game into overtime. “He has had an outstanding camp, and placement of the football has been one of his big things,” Beckman said. “Those were glaring ones. When that crunch time comes down, you’ve got to be able to perform, and he did not punt the ball well on those two times.”