College football notes: Illini defense stands strong

College football notes: Illini defense stands strong

To understand how much Youngstown State had the ball in its game against Illinois on Saturday, just look at tackle totals for Illini defenders.

Illinois had three players finish in double digits. Mason Monheim compiled 14 stops, the eighth time in his career he has reached double figures. Safeties Taylor Barton (career-high 13 tackles) and Zane Petty (10) were around the ball often against the Penguins.

The Illini defense was on the field for two-thirds of the game, with YSU having the ball for 40 minutes, 1 second.

“As a defense, we had confidence the whole way through,” defensive back Zane Petty said. “That was big for us that we could keep us in the game like that.”

Tim Beckman thought the experience Illinois has on this side of the ball helped significantly.

“There’s a lot of faces out there that know exactly how those guys are going to respond,” the Illinois coach said. “A couple third-down things we’ve got to be able to stop. I do want this defense to play with a sense of urgency, but I want them to play with that confidence that when they need to make a stop, they’re going to make the stop instead of, ‘Oh, how are they going to attack us on third and 10.’ Let’s make the play.”

They had ample opportunities Saturday. They might again against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers had the ball for 35:59 against Bowling Green, more than enough time to rack up a whopping 708 yards of total offense. Cornerback V’Angelo Bentley said Illinois had a solid grasp of what formations and tendencies Youngstown State would show.

Having nine months to prepare for one team certainly helped. How well Illinois adjusts with a shorter prep time will play a large role if the Illini can start 2-0 for the second straight season.

“We did a good job of communicating,” Bentley said. “That made the game a lot easier for us. It was something we didn’t do a lot of last year, so it was good to see that.”

Opportunity slips away

Your turn, Michigan State.

Wisconsin had its neutral-site game in Houston against LSU in hand Saturday night. Folks in Madison were probably getting ready to
celebrate like they haven’t since Frank Kaminsky and Bo Ryan’s hoops squad advanced to the Final Four five months ago.

Everything was hunky-dory after Corey Clement scored early in the third quarter to give Wisconsin a 24-7 lead.

But that was the end of the points for Gary Andersen’s team. The Bayou Bengals scored 21 unanswered points, allowing Les Miles to breathe and giving the Big Ten another black mark when it comes to gaining national credibility.

All eyes in the conference will shift to how Michigan State plays on Saturday. By the time nightfall starts to descend on Autzen Stadium, we’ll know whether the Spartans can give the Big Ten a legitimate playoff contender.

Weaker competition

Of the 44 FBS teams who faced off against FCS teams, 42 earned a win. A look at all the margins of victory, and the 11-point win by the Illini against Youngstown State has Illinois near the bottom of this particular category.

Half of the FBS teams who beat FCS schools won by at least 31 points, with nine winning by fewer than 10 points. But, like Beckman will point out this week, Illinois recorded the win. Forget about style points.

The two unlucky FBS teams who will face extreme unhappiness from their fan base are Iowa State and Florida International. The Cyclones lost to three-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State 34-14. Have to think it’s only a matter of time before the Bison join the FBS ranks.

The second year of the Ron Turner Era at FIU didn’t get off to the start the former Illinois coach wanted. Or needed. Bethune-Cookman wasn’t a pushover last season at the FCS level, advancing to the playoffs before losing in the first round. But Turner now holds a 1-12 record at FIU.

And his program isn’t winning much love from the media. Especially after the school denied a credential request from the Miami Herald, the only newspaper who covers the woeful Panthers on a regular basis.

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