2018 ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI FOOTBALL PREVIEW

HEAD COACH: Lovie Smith

RECORD AT ILLINOIS: 5 – 19

CAREER RECORD: 5 – 19

OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Rod Smith

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Hardy Nickerson

STADIUM: Memorial Stadium (60, 670)

 

2018 SCHEDULE

September 1 Kent State

September 8 Western Illinois

September 15 South Florida

September 21 Penn State

October 6 at Rutgers

October 13 Purdue

October 20 at Wisconsin

October 27 at Maryland

November 3 Minnesota

November 10 at Nebraska

November 17 Iowa

November 24 at Northwestern

 

2017 RESULTS

Ball State 24 – 21

Western Kentucky 20 – 7

South Florida 23 – 47

Nebraska 6 – 28

Iowa 16 – 45

Rutgers 24 – 35

Minnesota 17 – 24

Wisconsin 10 – 24

Purdue 10 – 29

Indiana 14 – 24

Ohio State 14 – 52

Northwestern 7 – 42

 

2017 OFFENSIVE STATS

SCORING: 15.4

RUSHING: 105.6

PASSING: 174.8

TOTAL OFFENSE: 280.4

 

2017 DEFENSIVE STATS

SCORING: 31.5

Rushing: 218.5

PASSING: 199.9

TOTAL: 418.4

 

FIVE YEAR WINNING TREND

2013: 4 – 8

2014: 6 – 7

2015: 5 – 7

2016: 3 – 9

2017: 2 – 10

 

RETURNING STARTERS OFFENSE: 7

RETURNING STARTERS DEFENSE: 7

 

RETURNING LEADERS

PASSING: Cam Thomas, 28 – 66 – 375 – 0TD – 5INT

RUSHING: Mike Epstein, 57 – 346 – 3TD

RECEIVING: Ricky Smalling, 31 – 510 – 2TD

TACKLES: Del’Shawn Phillips, 85

SACKS: Bobby Roundtree, 4.0

INTERCEPTIONS: Bennett Williams, 3

 

2018 TOP 10 RECRUITS

Calvin Avery, DT Dallas, Texas

Verdis Brown, C Chicago, Illinois

Reuben Unije, OT Bradenton, Florida

Coran Taylor, QB Peoria, Illinois

Khalan Tolson, LB St. Petersburg, Florida

Kordyn Slaughter, OT Belleville, Illinois

MJ Rivers, QB Frisco, Texas

Kievan Myers, OG Dallas, Texas

Julian Pearl, OT Danville, Illinois

Carlos Sandy, WR Fort Lauderdale, Florida

 

OFFENSE PREVIEW

Illinois suffered through a 2 – 10 season with the youngest team in the country in 2017. They finished 0 – 9 in the conference and now Lovie Smith must find a way to make the turn toward success in his fourth season.

Smith made several changes in the off-season including hiring Rod Smith as his OC. The goal in hiring Smith is to spread the field with as many formations as this team can handle. It all starts at quarterback with sophomore Cam Thomas. Thomas was the only scholarship player at that position in the spring. Other possibilities include Virginia Tech transfer AJ Bush, freshman Coran Taylor, MJ Rivers and Matt Robinson.

Running the football is a huge concern for Illinois. They haven’t had a 1,000 yard rusher since 2010. Four players return including Mike Epstein, Ra’Von Bonner, Dre Brown and Reggie Corbin. All combined for less than 800 yards in 2017. All four battled injuries last season but appear ready for the upcoming campaign.

Ricky Smalling will be joined by Mike Dudek as the top two receivers in this offense. Smalling missed spring football because of an undisclosed injury. Dudek returns after missing two seasons with a torn ACL.

The offensive line was young in 2017 starting four freshman. Right guard Nick Allegretti is the lone senior on this team and the unquestionable leader. The other four starters will be sophomores.

 

DEFENSE PREVIEW

DC Hardy Nickerson wants improvement up front. Bobby Roundtree and Isaiah Gay saw extensive playing time as true freshman in 2017. DT Tymir Oliver may be the most consistent of the front four. Jamal Milan steps in at DT.

At linebacker, Nickerson will count on Senior Del’Shawn Phillips, who led the team in tackles last season with 85. Jake Hansen is expected to return from a torn ACL last season. Sophomore James Knight will step in at the other outside linebacker position.

The secondary returns all four starters, but Nickerson wants to see improvement on just 9 interceptions. Bennett Williams led the team with three and he is set at safety along with Stanley Green. Nate Hobbs and Cameron Watkins will be the corners. Illinois ranked 12th in the Big Ten in total defense last season, 14th against the rush. In order for Illinois to get better this defense must improve.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

As a freshman, Blake Hayes averaged 42 yards per punt. Coach Smith believes Hayes will be one of the best in the Big Ten as a sophomore. Kicker Chase McLaughlin went 12 – 17 in field-goal attempts and was perfect inside 40 yards. The return game needs more production.

 

PREDICTION

Illinois football fans want to see improvement in 2018. There was little to be excited about last season after going 0 – 9 in conference play and 2 – 16 in the Big Ten over the last two years. Needless to say Lovie Smith could be on the hot seat this year. His six-year deal could be cut short if Illinois doesn’t show vast improvement in 2018. The first three games against can’t state, Western Illinois and South Florida will set the tone for the conference season. How Rod Smith impacts the offense will be a huge key, but will it be enough to get six wins and a possible bowl game?

 

PROJECTED RECORD: 3 – 9, 1 – 8 Big Ten

 

2018 ILLINOIS ROSTER

2             Reggie Corbin     RB          5-10       190        Jr.           Upper Marlboro, Md.     Gonzaga College HS

3             Jakari Norwood RB          5-10       175        Fr.          Deerfield Beach, Fla.       Deerfield Beach

3             Del’Shawn Phillips            LB           6-2         220        Sr.          Highland Park, Mich.       Cass Tech      Garden City C.C.

4             Ricky Smalling    WR         6-1         205        So.         Chicago, Ill.         Brother Rice

4             Bennett Williams              DB          6-0         200        So.         Campbell, Calif. St. Francis

5             Verdis Brown     DL          6-3         295        Fr.          Chicago, Ill.         IMG Academy (Fla.)

5             Carmoni Green  WR         6-1         190        So.         Miami, Fla.          Miami Central

6             Tony Adams        DB          6-0         190        So.         Belleville, Ill.       St. Louis University HS

6             Shaedon Meadors            WR         6-2         180        Sr.          Duncan, S.C.       Byrnes               Appalachian State

7             Stanley Green    DB          5-11       195        Jr.           East St. Louis, Ill.              East St. Louis Senior

8             Nate Hobbs         DB          6-0         180        So.         Louisville, Ky.     Louisville Male

9             Dele Harding      LB           6-1         235        Jr.           Elkton, Md.         Eastern Christian

9             Sam Mays           WR         6-3         200        Sr.          Missouri City, Texas        The Kinkaid School

10           James Knight      LB           5-10       205        So.         East St. Louis, Ill.              East St. Louis

10           Cam Thomas      QB          6-2         190        So.         Chicago Heights, Ill.         Marian Catholic

12           Charlie Reinkemeyer       QB          5-11       175        R-Fr.      Lake Forest, Ill.  Lake Forest

13           Caleb Reams      WR         6-2         250        Jr.           Gurnee, Ill.          Warren Township

14           Blake Hayes        P             6-6         230        So.         Melbourne, Australia      Brighton

15           Trenard Davis     WR         6-0         190        Jr.           Boynton Beach, Fla.        American Heritage School

16           Cam Miller          QB          6-1         215        So.         Evergreen Park, Ill.          Brother Rice

17           James McCourt  PK/P       6-1         220        So.         Parkland, Fla.     St. Thomas Aquinas

17           Kendall Smith     DB          6-1         185        So.         Bolingbrook, Ill. Bolingbrook

18           Mike Dudek        WR         5-11       185        Sr.          Naperville, Ill.    Neuqua Valley

19           Louis Dorsey       TE           6-6         225        So.         Jacksonville, Fla.               Jean Ribault

20           Nick Walker        DB          5-10       185        So.         St. Louis, Mo.     Miller Career Academy (Mo.)  Cisco College (Texas)

21           Ra’Von Bonner   RB          5-11       210        So.         Cincinnati, Ohio Sycamore

22           Kyle Keuch          DB          6-1         170        Jr.           Frankfort, Ill.      Lincoln Way East

24           Dawson DeGroot             DB          6-1         190        So.         Fort Myers, Fla. Fort Myers

25           Dre Brown          RB          5-11       215        Jr.           DeKalb, Ill.          DeKalb

26           Mike Epstein      RB          6-0         195        So.         Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.          St. Thomas Aquinas

26           Evan Jones          DB          6-2         190        So.         Atlanta, Ga.        Salem

28           Nolan Bernat      DB          5-10       190        Jr.           Bartlett, Ill.         Bartlett HS               College of DuPage

29           Christian Bobak RB          6-0         200        So.         Hinsdale, Ill.       Hinsdale Central

31           Cameron Watkins            DB          6-0         190        Jr.           Nashville, Tenn. Pearl-Cohn

32           Justice Williams WR         6-3         220        Jr.           Frisco, Texas       Wakeland

34           PC Daniel II         DB          6-1         205        Fr.          Bradenton, Fla.  IMG Academy

35           Jake Hansen        LB           6-2         230        So.         Tarpon Springs, Fla.         East Lake

36           Austin Roberts   RB          6-2         245        Sr.          Rice Lake, Wis.   Rice Lake

37           Zac Holman         WR         6-1         190        Sr.          Cronulla, Australia           De La Salle Cronulla

41           Jimmy Marchese              LB           6-2         220        Jr.           Vernon Hills, Ill. Stevenson

42           Michael Marchese           DB          6-3         190        So.         Vernon Hills, Ill. Stevenson

43           Chase McLaughlin            PK           6-1         180        Sr.          Cypress, Texas   Cypress Woods

44           Drew Murtaugh LB           6-3         225        So.         Crystal Lake, Ill. Crystal Lake South

46           Alec McEachern LB           6-1         215        R-Fr.      Plainfield, Ill.      Benet Academy

48           Kevin Hinders     DL          6-5         235        R-Fr.      Champaign, Ill.  St. Thomas More

51           Sean Coghlan     LB           6-0         215        R-Fr.      Chicago, Ill.         St. Rita

52           Ayo Shogbonyo DL          6-2         230        So.         Arlington, Texas               Mansfield Summitt

52           Adam Solomon  OL          6-6         310        Jr.           Indianapolis, Ind.             Bishop Chatard

53           Nick Allegretti    OL          6-4         320        Sr.          Frankfort, Ill.      Lincoln-Way East

53           Kendrick Green  DL          6-4         300        R-Fr.      Peoria, Ill.           Peoria

54           Marc Mondesir  LB           6-2         220        So.         Chicago, Ill.         St. Rita

55           Jamal Milan        DL          6-3         300        Jr.           Chicago, Ill.         Al Raby

56           Ethan Tabel        LS           6-0         220        So.         Barrington, Ill.    Barrington

58           Sean Mills            LS           6-3         215        So.         Metuchen, N.J.  St. Joseph

63           Alex Palczewski  OL          6-6         290        So.         Mount Prospect, Ill.        Prospect

65           Doug Kramer      OL          6-2         295        So.         Hinsdale, Ill.       Hinsdale Central

68           Jake Stover         OL          6-3         295        R-Fr.      Chicago, Ill.         St. Rita

70           Reuben Unije     OL          6-6         300        Fr.          Bradenton, Fla.  IMG Academy

71           Zeke Martin        OL          6-5         300        Jr.           Medina, Ohio     Medina

73           Jake Cerny           OL          6-5         305        So.         Traverse City, Mich.        Traverse City West

74           Andrew Trainer OL          6-7         280        So.         Alexandria, Va.  St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School

75           Kurt Gavin           OL          6-4         300        So.         Mokena, Ill.        Lincoln-Way East

76           Larry Boyd          OL          6-6         340        So.         St. Louis, Mo.     Trinity Catholic

79           Vederian Lowe  OL          6-5         340        So.         Rockford, Ill.       Auburn

80           Keith Jones         WR         6-0         160        So.         Chicago, Ill.         Hansberry College Prep

81           Griffin Palmer    TE           6-5         225        So.         St. Charles, Mo. De Smet Jesuit

83           Bobby Walker    TE           6-4         230        Jr.           Golf, Ill. Loyola Academy

86           Jordan Roberts  WR         6-4         180        Sr.          Chicago, Ill.         Wayland Academy

88           Brandon Jones   TE           6-5         240        So.         Columbia, Mo.   Hickman

89           Alex Pihlstrom    TE           6-6         235        R-Fr.      Glen Ellyn, Ill.     Glenbard West

90           Lere Oladipo       DL          6-3         265        R-Fr.      Huntley, Ill.         Huntley

91           Jamal Woods      DL          6-2         265        So.         Hueytown, Ala.  Hueytown

92           Isaiah Gay           DL          6-3         215        So.         Nashville, N.C.   Northern Nash

95           Kenyon Jackson DL          6-0         290        Jr.           Little Rock, Ark.Parkview Arts & Science Magnet

96           Tymir Oliver        DL          6-4         285        Jr.           Sharon Hill, Pa.  West Philadelphia Catholic

97           Bobby Roundtree             DL          6-5         245        So.         Largo, Fla.           Largo

98           Deon Pate           DL          6-3         280        R-Fr.      Jacksonville, Fla.               Trinity Christian Academy

99           Owen Carney Jr.               DL          6-3         240        So.         Miami, Fla.          Miami Central

Coaching Staff

Coaching Staff

NAME    TITLE

Lovie Smith         Head Coach

Hardy Nickerson               Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator/LB

Rod Smith            Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach

Gill Byrd               Passing Game Coordinator/Safeties Coach

Bob Ligashesky  Special Teams Coordinator

Donnie Abraham              Defensive Backs/Safeties Coach

Luke Butkus        Offensive Line Coach

Austin Clark        Defensive Line Coach

Andrew Hayes-Stoker     Wide Receivers Coach

Cory Patterson   Tight Ends Coach

Thad Ward          Running Backs Coach

Rob Delaney       Graduate Assistant Coach, Offense

Zach Grant          Graduate Assistant Coach, Offense

Miles Smith         Graduate Assistant Coach, Defense

Peter Collins       Defensive Analyst

Joe Fotu               Defensive Analyst

Cody Gibson       Offensive Analyst

Kingsley Osei-Asibey        Analyst

Robert Wright    Defensive Analyst

Jake Zweig          Special Teams Analyst

Jake Ellsworth    Defensive Assistant

Joey Boese          Head Football Strength and Conditioning Coach

Tim Knox             Director of Football Operations