CHAMPAIGN — The Illinois defense was picked apart by Louisiana Tech during Saturday’s 52-24 loss, and the coaching staff hopes the return of safeties Supo Sanni and Steve Hull can help shore up the unit.
Sanni, defensive coordinator Tim Banks said, will make his season debut Saturday against Penn State after sitting the first four games with a knee injury. The senior missed the 2010 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Hull, a junior, missed the opener against Western Michigan with a shoulder injury. He played in the Arizona State game, but he reinjured the shoulder and hasn’t played since.
“They bring a ton of experience; they’ve played a lot of football around here, had great success,” Banks said. “I know they’re hungry. Steve got a little bit of a taste in the Arizona State game, lost him early, but they’re very confident. They’ve been out there, been in the mix. There aren’t a lot of things you can show them that they haven’t already done, already seen. They’re excited about playing.”
Hull reinjured his shoulder on the first big hit he made at Arizona State. He said, though, there’s no hesitation in getting back on the field and mixing it up.
“It’s been a rough go, but I feel a lot better right now,” Hull said. “I feel good, I feel strong again, I feel comfortable. You can’t play football (worried about injuries). I know that. I don’t sit and think about it when I play, I just go and have fun. I don’t try to play and protect myself.”
Since the start of the 2010 season Sanni has played in 13 of 30 games. Hull has played in 20.
“It’s been tough. Every weekend that we’ve been out, it’s been rough,” Hull said. “Today was the first day of us actually back together at the same time on the field, us running around, jumping around was good to have.”
Still believing. Despite ranking last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (26.0 points per game), Banks said his unit has maintained its confidence.
“I think they’re confident, and the big deal is we have to eliminate the big plays, first and foremost, to give ourselves a chance to be successful. I think if we do that, we’ll be fine,” Banks said. “As we watch the film, they see that it’s more us than the other team, and any time you can see that, that’s a good deal. Now we just have to go on the field and do it.”
Earlier in the week, tackle Akeem Spence expressed a desire to bring more pressure in the form of blitzing.
“I know we’ve all talked about it,” Banks said. “We want to be more aggressive, make sure we got some guys that can cover back there, and we do. Supo will play a little bit more this week, and hopefully we can be a little more aggressive.”
Hitting his stride. Coach Tim Beckman expressed pleasure in the effort of punter Justin DuVernois so far this season. The sophomore is kicking with a great deal of confidence after an up-and-down freshman campaign.
“I think just adjusting to the quickness of everything and having a year under my belt, I have a little more confidence when I go out there,” DuVernois said.
The Plantation, Fla., native ranks third in the Big Ten, averaging 43.0 yards per punt. In 2011, he ranked 10th at 38.3 yards, had some kicks blocked and receiver Ryan Lankford took his place for 19 punts.
“The scheme that we have really works for me now, too,” DuVernois said. “It’s crazy how much better I feel. This year I’m kind of happy where I am right now.”