Rapid Reaction: Illinois defense no match for Brennan Armstrong in loss to Virginia
The tone was set early for Illinois against Virginia Saturday morning.
It started with a 31-yard pass on UVA’s first play from scrimmage. Then Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong ran around the Illini defense for 17 yards. After an incompletion, Armstrong found Jelani Woods for a 32-yard touchdown.
Four plays. 75 yards. A minute and 16 seconds.
Things didn’t get any better from there as Virginia rolled past Bret Bielema’s Illini 42-14 in Charlottesville.
Illinois got off to as bad of a start as it could, with two 3-and-outs on offense and allowing 2 75+yard touchdown drives on defense — all in the first 5 minutes. Virginia’s Armstrong looked great, going 5-for-6 for 81 yards on those first 2 drives.
Armstrong had himself a day, too, as he completed 27 of 36 passes to set career highs with 405 yards and 5 touchdowns as he shredded the depleted Illinois defense.
The Illini looked like they were waking up in the second quarter when Deuce Spann made an incredible grab for a 33-yard touchdown on a pass from Art Sitkowski, who started in place of Brandon Peters for the second straight week. They then caught a break when UVA missed a field goal — after a false start penalty negated the initial make.
Virginia found the end zone one last time before halftime, but Illinois came out firing in the second half and answered back in the first 2 minutes of the second half. The Illini defense continued to be a problem though, as Virginia pulled out some trick plays as it marched 75 yards for the touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Then, the frustrations boiled over in the fourth quarter with multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against the Illini. It pretty much summed up the game for Illinois.
Bielema is going to have quite the film session with his players this week.
After a couple solid showings in Peters’ place, Sitkowski didn’t look as sharp this week. On the stat sheet, he completed 24 of 45 passes for 221 yards and threw that touchdown to Spann. But away from the numbers, he looked shaky. He wasn’t as accurate with his passes and he was sacked on the last 2 plays of the first half instead of getting rid of the ball.
On the other side, the defense was tricked — multiple times — by some Virginia misdirection and allowed the Cavaliers to make plays.
Remember all that optimism after the Illini beat Nebraska in Week 0? It’s safe to say that’s tapered off now.
At least when Illinois lost to UTSA last week, there were good things to point to afterward. The Illini didn’t roll over and nearly pulled off the comeback. This time around, Illinois just couldn’t get the momentum.
It also doesn’t help that Armstrong had his way with the Illinois defense, which didn’t send much pressure at him. It’s hard to beat a guy who throws for 405 yards on 27 completions — and catches a pass for a first down on a fun trick play.
There’s not a lot of time to shore things up with B1G play starting up again against Maryland on Sept. 17. We’ll see how Bielema can adjust.
One thing’s for sure, though. The last 2 games have brought more questions than answers.