September 26, 2023

Brighton Journal

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5 takeaways from Illini loss to Kansas Jayhawks

5 takeaways from Illini loss to Kansas Jayhawks

September 8, 2023; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Kansas Jayhawks running back Devin Neal (4) runs the ball against Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back Xavier Scott (14) during the second half at Kansas’ David Booth Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

High expectations were shattered Friday night when the Illinois football team was dismantled by the Kansas Jayhawks.

It wasn’t a great match from the start. The Illini were not moving the ball on offense, and our defense looked lost for most of the game. Before it could get comfortable, Illinois managed to find itself in a 14-point hole.

Illinois showed some glimpses of promise before halftime, driving down the field and scoring a touchdown. But the defense let us down again. They allowed a touchdown to Kansas in less than 50 seconds. That 28-7 deficit heading into halftime seemed too much.

There was a fight in the second half, as the Illini actually outscored the Jayhawks 16-6 in the period. But we were unable to finish some trips that were crucial to the return. It’s over for Illinois Fall to Kansas, 34-23.

Here are five takeaways from Illinois Football’s loss to the Kansas Jayhawks

1. Feeling secondary attrition in Illinois

After the 2022 season, the Illinois football team had a lot of talent entering the NFL. This talent included several defensive backs who left the program for the next level.

It was cornerback Devon Witherspoon Selected No. 5 overall. Jartavious Martin was selected in the second round. Sidney Brown was selected in the third round. Kendall Smith was not selected, but he will play the preseason with the Washington Chiefs. That’s four big pieces for one of the best defenses in college football last season.

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Illinois won’t have those pieces in 2023. And while I thought we’d struggle at times, the impact is being felt more than I realized.

Illinois high school is struggling mightily. We have some good pieces like Taz Nicholson, but obviously most of our defensive backs are still in the early stages of learning the speed of the college game.

There were several times against Kansas where Illinois’ secondary seemed lost. The Jayhawks will throw to wide open pass rushers in the middle of the field. Our safeties might see a Kansas player catch the ball five or 10 yards from the defense, and then they’ll take a bad angle to try to make the tackle. This intervention will not work. The Illinois defensive back will not turn in pass coverage, which could lead to pass interference calls.

It was a truly disappointing showing by the Illinois high school. It looked like they weren’t ready to face Kansas. This needs to change quickly.