Illini Report Card vs. Western Illinois: C

Illini Report Card vs. Western Illinois: C

N-G football beat writer Bob Asmussen hands out his grades after Illinois' 34-14 victory over Western Illinois on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium 

Player of the game

Illinois quarterback M.J. Rivers

The same week former starter Cam Thomas left the team, the freshman from Texas was forced into the game when AJ Bush Jr. got hurt. Rivers was more than ready for his opportunity, throwing a pair of touchdown passes to fellow freshman Edwin Carter in a comeback win.

Offense

Illinois: C, Western Illinois: C

Against an FCS school, Illinois should have piled up the yards. ButRod Smth's guys struggled to move the ball consistently with all the missing pieces (receivers Mikey Dudek, Ricky Smalling and tight end Lou Dorsey out). The Leathernecks looked great on the opening drive but didn't do much the rest of the way.

Defense

Illinois: B-, Western Illinois: C

Hardy Nickerson's unit struggled at the start before putting together five consecutive stops in the middle quarters. Like with the offense, missing players because of injuries and suspensions had a negative impact on Illini. The team needs good news on tackle Tymir Oliver, who didn't finish the game.

Special teams

Illinois: A, Western Illinois: F

Blocking a punt for a touchdown will always earn you a top grade. Take a bow, Dawson DeGroot and Stanley Green. You too, Chase McLaughlin after hitting a 54-yard field goal, one of the longest in school history. Leathernecks troubles started early when their first kickoff went out of bounds.

Coaching

Illinois: C, Western Illinois: B

Way too many self-imposed mistakes by the Illini. Penalties, especially personal foul calls, are on the staff. Time to make a tape of the blunders in the Big Ten that cost their teams wins. The good news: Rod Smith had Rivers ready for his first college game.

Overall

Illinois: C, Western Illinois: C

The bottom line for Illinois is the mark on the plus side of the record. That's all that really matters. For the second week in a row, it wasn't pretty. But that won't matter years from now. The Smiths have all sorts of stuff to work on before next week's challenge against South Florida.