Illinois football beat writer Bob Asmussen chatted with former Illini running back Howard Griffith, who visited Champaign-Urbana on Wednesday as part of BTN’s Big Ten campus tour. Griffith, who once scored eight touchdowns in a game, has been part of the BTN studio show since its inception.
What did you think of the current Illini?
They’re a much better football team than they were last year. Obviously, having grad transfers in is a big part of that. A lot of those guys that they had that were playing as freshmen, they’re no longer freshmen. I think they’re going to surprise quite a few people with the way they are able to play this year. Brandon Peters is going to help them out in the pass game. The run game will still be really good.
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What are the biggest concerns for Illinois?
Health. They don’t have as many starter-type players as you want. But that’s expected for where this program is coming from.
The Big Ten West is going to be improved.
Nationally and even locally to some extent, people are talking about the West and saying, “Everybody else is better but Illinois.” I don’t think that’s the case. Illinois has gotten better. They are playing hard and aggressively on both sides of the ball. They’ve just got to go out and execute.
Does Peters fit Rod Smith’s offense?
The one thing people have to understand about Rod Smith is he can adapt his offense to the talent of the players on the field. He knows what he wants and he knows how to get it done.
How will Lovie Smith do as defensive coordinator?
Here’s the reality: If they can make the same type of jump as the offense made last year, or even half of that, they’re a much better team defensively. They have the players and personnel to do it. I’m not saying they are going to go out and win every game, but they have a chance to shock some people in Big Ten play.
What does the opening of the Smith Center mean for Illinois football?
People immediately say it’s going to help recruiting. Well, that’s true. But it’s also going to help the young men who are in the program right now. They’re going to want to hang around the facility a lot longer. It’s going to pay dividends.