Our beat writer breaks down the need-to-knows after Illinois' 34-31 loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday at Memorial Stadium:
Good passers with enough athletic ability to move the chains with their feet have basically become Illinois’ Kryptonite. Enter EMU quarterback Mike Glass III, who carved up the Illini for 353 total yards and three touchdowns.
WHAT IT MEANS
Has anything really changed for Illinois? The idea was that this season was one where all the “growth” the past two seasons would lead to more success. Maybe even a bowl game. Losing at home to a MAC team isn’t that.
The path doesn’t get any easier for Lovie Smith and Co. Big Ten play starts in a week — first up, Nebraska and dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez — and the hunt for four more wins begins. Will it be successful
Our beat writer hands out grades for both teams after Illinois' home loss:
Player of the game
Eastern Michigan wide receiver Arthur Jackson
Sure, Eagles’ quarterback Mike Glass III put up more than 300 yards of total offense — most of it coming while gouging the Illinois secondary. But it was Jackson that hauled in two of EMU’s three touchdowns, and both of his catches were highlight-reel caliber. The 6-foot, 194-pound big play senior finished with three catches for 80 yards and his two scores.
Eastern Michigan: A
The Illini’s performance wasn’t without a few positives. Reggie Corbin returned and rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown. On only 18 carries. Josh Imatorbhebhe came up with multiple big catches on the final drive. But Brandon Peters had two turnovers (a pick and a fumble) and was sacked six times. Don’t forget the penalties, either. Those killed some drives, too.
Eastern Michigan: C-
Eastern Michigan wasn’t perfect, of course, with two late-scoring drives by the Illini making it a game. But the Eagles’ defense certainly fared better. Illinois showed soft spots in its pass coverage against both Akron and UConn, and Glass was finally the quarterback to take advantage. That the Illini defensive line generated almost zero pressure didn’t help.
Eastern Michigan: A+
James McCourt drilled a 57-yard field goal to open the game, tying the Illinois record for longest kick. Add in some solid punting by Blake Hayes and a heady play on a kickoff by Dre Brown, and Saturday’s loss didn’t come from the Illini special teamers. The Eagles’ Chad Ryland had a 52-yarder of his own and also kicked the game-winning field goal.
Eastern Michigan: B
The final Illini drive of the first half was basically a waste. Corbin broke a big run, but clock management issues — which Lovie Smith owned up to after the game — meant that 35-yard carry basically didn’t matter. If the buck stops with the coaching staff, another game chock full of momentum-killing penalties and the inability to tamp down Eastern Michigan’s passing game ultimately falls on their feet, too.
Eastern Michigan: A-
The following is a fact that doesn’t exactly shine a positive light on the Illinois football program. With Saturday’s win, Eastern Michigan has now won more Big Ten games than the Illini since 2017. The Eagles have three. Illinois? Just two. Losing at home to a MAC team — even Big Ten killers like EMU — tempers the idea of Illinois as a bowl team this season.