Asmussen | Short-handed Illini survive, but questions loom

Asmussen | Short-handed Illini survive, but questions loom

The rumors had been floating in the community for a while: multiple Illinois players faced suspensions early in the season.

Turns out, the rumors were true.

On Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Lovie Smith sat tight end Lou Dorsey, receiver Carmoni Green, cornerback Nate Hobbs, defensive lineman Deon Pate and safety Bennett Williams.

They are suspended indefinitely for violation of team rules.

Three of the players — Dorsey, Hobbs and Williams — were listed as starters in the pregame depth chart. Green and Pate were listed as third-stringers.

"We have some team rules and if you break the team rules, there are consequences," Smith said. "Most of the time, it's not a death sentence. And that won't be the case with these players. They missed the first game. They're still suspended indefinitely."

What happened?

Smith didn't offer much in the way of details.

"I'm not going to go into when it happened, which was a long period of time ago," Smith said.

And what will it take for them to get back on the field?

"Just continue to do what they're doing right now." Smith said.

During his 15-minute postgame press conference Saturday following the Illini's 31-24 win, Smith was asked follow-up questions about the suspensions. But he cut it off.

"They're suspended indefinitely," he said. "It's nothing else to talk about. On a big game like this, we're not going to turn this into those guys that didn't play, injured guys and all. There's a lot to talk about for the guys that played."

We do know the season status of freshman defensive lineman Verdis Brown and sophomore offensive lineman Larry Boyd. Both will be academic redshirts in 2018 and won't play.

Ripple effect

The problem with indefinite suspensions is they lead to speculation. Some will assume the worst.

Illinois kept the information in-house for as long as possible. It went so far as to print a depth chart that wasn't accurate.

I don't blame the coaches for wanting to keep it quiet. Given the closeness of Saturday's game — where Kent State led by 14 at halftime — Illinois needed every advantage.

The Golden Flashes had to assume Dorsey, Hobbs and Williams would be in the game and had to prepare for them.

Likewise, Illinois had to get players ready to go who were not at the top of the depth chart.

"There's a period of time we've had to prepare," Smith said. "That period of time could have been a day or two weeks."

Smith was pleased with the effort of the backups.

"They performed well," Smith said. "We played some young defensive backs. We let them get behind us a couple times. You'd rather that not happen. Some of the young players are going to have typical first-game things that we don't do well and we'll do better next time."

True freshman Daniel Barker started at tight end in place of Dorsey.

"It feels great for them to be able to call on me," Barker said. "I wasn't nervous. It's just football. Another game of football."

He will be ready if his number is called against Western Illinois next Saturday night.

"I prepared myself to come in and play right away," Barker said.

Cornerback Quan Martin had been told by the coaches to be ready.

"I told my parents I was starting," he said.

Bad timing award

It has not been a good summer for the Big Ten image-wise.

Ohio State suspended its head coach, Urban Meyer, for three games because of the way he dealt with charges of domestic abuse against an assistant coach.

Maryland is still considering the future of coach D.J. Durkin following the offseason death of a player.

The Illinois suspensions don't measure up to the other, higher-profile cases, but they are a cause for concern.

Smith is trying to rebuild a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2011. It's hard enough without the added burden of missing valuable players.

The team can't afford many more off-the-field mistakes. Not if it wants to improve on last year's 2-10 finish.

The team leaders need to remind the players to follow the rules.

"We've already taken care of that," senior guard Nick Allegretti said. "Where there's been some mistakes made in the past, I think we're a new team. Those mistakes won't be made again. We'll be good."

The short-handed Illini survived Saturday against a bad team. One that finished 2-10 last season and fired its coach.

Western Illinois is next and figures to be a win for Smith's team. Illinois has never lost to an FCS school.

But after that, there are no certain wins. If Illinois hopes to contend against South Florida, Penn State, Rutgers, etc., it needs to have a full squad. Or as close to as possible.

Bob Asmussen can be reached at 217-351-5233 or by email at asmussen@news-gazette