Breaking it down: UNC destroys Illinois
Final: North Carolina 48, Illinois 14
Telling stat: UNC’s 254 rushing yards
It was hard not to be impressed with the numbers coming into this one. Illinois had only allowed three points in two games coming into this one…against way lesser competition. The Illini didn’t have any answer for the Tarheels in the second half. Elijah Hood and Marquise Williams ran all over the place and Illinois couldn’t make an open field tackle worth anything.
Key play: UNC stops Illinois on 4th-and-1
North Carolina shut down the Illini on the first possession, and killed some needed offensive momentum early. Wes Lunt marched Illinois down the field and Bill Cubit elected to roll the dice. Instead of going up a touchdown early on the road, Lunt threw into double coverage and gave the Tarheels the ball back without a score. Illinois still had several chances to get back into it, but it could’ve put the Heels on their, well, heels, early but came up short.
-Josh Ferguson looked solid
This was not a banner day for the Illini offense, but the Illini tailback stepped up early. He was shifty and tough to bring down for the Tarheel defenders. His 133 rushing yards could’ve been even higher had gameflow prevented Illinois from running the ball more in the second half. Fun fact? The 22 carries were also a career high for the senior. Illinois needs to rely on this guy more and more to get the offense going when Lunt is struggling.
-Switzer cut up Illinois coverage team
We’re going to talk a lot about the weaknesses the Illini defense showed, but the special teams game didn’t help much Ryan Switzer racked up 168 punt return yards, including an 85-yard score. Illinois’ open-field tackling issues surfaced in a major way against the Carolina speedster. That can’t continue in Big Ten play. There are too many big-play returners in the conference for Illinois to struggle like it did in special teams.
What it means: Those first two games are in the past
Remember how Illinois was arguably the feel-good story of the Big Ten? That narrative is gone, at least for a little while. Everybody wondered how this team would respond against its first Power Five team of the season, and to put it mildly, it was ugly. Illinois has issues all over the place, most notably on defense. Back to the drawing board for the Illini.