Defense a concern at the start
CHAMPAIGN — Immediately after Tim Beckman’s postgame press conference on Saturday, most of the media inside the Illinois squad room engulfed Bill Cubit.
The first-year offensive coordinator delivered on the promise of bringing a more pass-happy offense. The numbers back it up.
In the opposite corner of the Illinois squad room, defensive coordinator Tim Banks sipped a fruit punch Gatorade and had much more breathing room with only three reporters nearby.
Who knows if the breathing room will still exist in future games.
Especially if the defense breaks down in the second half like it did Saturday.
The Illinois passing game highlighted Saturday’s 42-34 win against Southern Illinois.
But real concern exists with how Banks’ unit will hold up. Particularly after the in-state FCS opponent gashed the Illini secondary, prevented any consistent pass rush and churned up 407 yards of total offense.
Or only 18 less than what Cincinnati produced in its 42-7 win at Purdue.
“We’ve got to be able to respond to sudden change,” Banks said. “Get a short field, we’ve got to bow our necks. We had (SIU) on third down twice and ended up letting them score. In pass coverage, we can’t give up the cheap one. We’ve got to do a better job.”
They did early against the Salukis. Just not late.
“I thought the defense played extremely well in the first half,” Beckman said. “We’ve got to continue to make strides when they’re throwing the football. We’ve got a lot of young guys out there playing.”
Cornerback V’Angelo Bentley and free safety Taylor Barton made their first starts Saturday. Banks rotated in true freshmen cornerbacks Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap, too.
“Those guys are going to be good players for us,” Bentley said. “I believe that they’re going to have a great impact on this team. I wouldn’t say the game was so close because we had a lot of young guys because those young guys can definitely play. We’ve just got to grow from this and make the plays we didn’t make (Saturday).”
Missed tackles were not much of a concern for the Illinois defense in the season opener. Allowing SIU to pick apart the Illinois defense, however, happened frequently in the second half.
“Anytime you give up big plays, you know obviously something is wrong,” Banks said. “We’ve just got to make sure we get it corrected.”