ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI FOOTBALL PREVIEW
HEAD COACH: Lovie Smith
RECORD AT ILLINOIS: 3 – 9
2016 RECORD: 3 – 9
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Garrick McGee
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Hardy Nickerson
LAST LEAGUE TITLE: 2001
LAST BOWL GAME: 2014, Heart of Texas
RETURNING STARTERS OFFENSE: 5
RETURNING STARTERS DEFENSE: 6
MEMORIAL STADIUM: 60,670
TOP NEWCOMER: LB Del’Shawn Phillips. Phillips is a junior college transfer and is expected to start in the middle of the defense as a hard – hitting, run – stuffing linebacker. Phillips was a four – star recruit who originally committed to Arizona.
TOP 10 RECRUITS
WR Ricky Smalling, Chicago
DL Kendrick Green, Peoria, Illinois
LB Del’Shawn Phillips, Highland Park, Michigan
OL Larry Boyd, St. Louis
DE Owen Carney, Miami
WR Carmoni Green, Miami
DL Lere Oladipo, Huntley, Illinois
DB Tony Adams, Belleville, Illinois
WR Kendall Smith, Bolingbrook, Illinois
TE Lewis Dorsey, Jacksonville
W Murray State 52 – 3
L North Carolina 48 – 23
L Western Michigan 34 – 10
L Nebraska 31 – 16
L Purdue 34 – 31 OT
W Rutgers 24 – 7
L Michigan 41 – 8
L Minnesota 40 – 17
W Michigan State 31 – 27
L Wisconsin 48 – 3
L Iowa 20 – 0
L Northwestern 42 – 21
September 2 Ball State
September 9 Western Michigan
September 15 at South Florida
September 29 Nebraska
October 7 at Iowa
October 14 Rutgers
October 21 at Minnesota
October 28 Wisconsin
November 4 at Purdue
November 11 Indiana
November 18 at Ohio State
November 25 Northwestern
Rushing: Kendrick Foster, RB, 720 yards
Passing: Jeff George Jr, QB, 470 yards
Receiving: Malik Turner, WR, 712 yards
Tackles: Tre Watson, LB, 102
Sacks: Tito Odenigbo, DL, 1.0
Interceptions: Julian Hylton, DB, 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Reggie Corbin, DB Patrick Nelson, DB Jaylen Dunlap, DB Stanley Green
Rushing Offense: 140.5 (105th in nation, 13th in conference)
Passing Offense: 174.6 (109, 11)
Total Offense: 315.1 (123, 13)
Scoring Offense: 19.7 (122, 13)
Rushing Defense: 219.2 (105, 12)
Pass Defense: 185.9 (17, 3)
Total Defense: 405.1 (61, 11)
Scoring Defense: 31.9 (94, 12)
Turnover Margin: -0.17 (82, 9)
Sacks: 2.33 (42, 7)
Sacks Allowed: 1.67 (39, 3)
PREVIEW ILLINOIS OFFENSE
If Illinois plans on making improvement and a possible bowl game, improvement must start on offense. Illinois ranked 122nd in scoring, 105th in rushing, 109th in passing and 123rd overall in the country. Head Coach Lovie Smith has two quarterbacks with experience– Chayce Crouch and Jeff George Junior. They are in line to replace Wes Lunt. In limited action, Crouch threw for 249 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 176 yards. George threw for 470 yards and four touchdowns. Crouch attempted to play through the injury to his throwing shoulder last season. Another option could be former Virginia Tech quarterback Dwayne Lawson who spent last season at Garden City Community College.
The running game is in good shape with the return of Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin. Foster ran for 720 yards and scored seven touchdowns in 2016. Corbin started two games and gain 523 yards last season.
WR Mikey Dudek became the first Illinois freshman to have more than 1,000 receiving yards, but suffered a pair of torn ACL’s and hasn’t made a successful return. Dudek did not participate in spring drills but is projected to return this fall. In his absence, Malik Turner stepped in and led the team with 48 receptions. At TE Illinois will count on redshirt freshman Griffin Palmer who had a solid spring. Incoming freshman Lewis Dorsey should see time immediately.
The offensive line returns tackle Christian DiLauro who has made 31 consecutive starts and is considered the anchor upfront. Center/Guard Nick Allegretti is a leader on the line and has the ability to play multiple positions. Gabe Megginson returns as the starter at RG.
PREVIEW ILLINOIS DEFENSE
Illinois loses the top four sack leaders to graduation. That spells an opportunity for the underclassmen to step up. Sophomores Jamal Milan and Kenyon Jackson will work inside. Incoming freshman Kendrick Green has a chance to make an impact right away. Illinois will count on end James Crawford who has played at multiple positions.
LB Tre’ Watson is DC Hardy Nickerson’s leading returning tackler and is the leader of this defensive unit. JC transfer Del’Shawn Phillips and sophomore Jake Hansen will work on the outside.
Nickerson expects improvement in the secondary because they were forced to use so many young players last season. Patrick Nelson and Stanley Green finished third and fifth respectively on the team in tackles. Senior Jaylen Dunlap is the only returning starter at cornerback. There likely will be more than a dozen freshmen and sophomores in the two deep to start the fall on defense.
PREVIEW ILLINOIS SPECIAL TEAMS
Illinois must replace punter Ryan Frain. Ryan Tucker was the only option in the spring. Bryce Baringer will challenge Frain for the starting job. Kicker Chase McLaughlin went 12 – 17 on field-goal attempts and was a perfect 26 – 26 and extra points. One area Illinois must improve on is the return game. It appears freshmen Ricky Smalling and Tony Adams will take over those duties.
Head Coach Lovie Smith is finding out that winning football games in Illinois is an easy. They are miles away from being able to contend in the Western division. They regressed in their first year under Smith across the board. The end of 2016 was most troubling after Illinois lost their final five games by an average of 30 points per game.
Smith will again rely on underclassmen in 2017. There are only six seniors on the projected two – deep depth chart. The early schedule is favorable with home games against Ball State and Western Kentucky. A trip to South Florida doesn’t appear to be overly daunting. Illinois will be home against Nebraska, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Indiana and Northwestern with tough road contests at Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State.
2 – 10 overall, 1 – 8 Big Ten.