Three keys for Illinois in 2015
The offseason hasn’t been kind to the Illini. Abuse allegations from former players have Tim Beckman on the hot seat and leading receiver Mikey Dudek suffered a spring ACL tear, which will sideline him for the first part of the season. Here’s what Illinois has to do to weather the storm.
Ignore outside noise
Sure, that might sound a bit like coach speak, but in Illinois’ case, it couldn’t be more necessary. Despite Beckman’s best efforts, the media will not show up to be positive this year. The abuse allegations story isn’t going away anytime soon. Players will be asked about it, and if allegations keep coming in, national media is going to keep talking about it. They’re likely going to tell reporters that they aren’t worried about it and they’re just focused on the next game. They should take their own advice. Now is not the time to start doubting their head coach. If the Illini can take care of business on Saturdays, it would certainly take away from Beckman’s pending situation.
Establish ground game
Penn State was the only Big Ten team that had fewer rushing yards than the Illini last year. Bill Cubit’s offense is going to sling it as much as anybody in the conference. But utilizing the versatile Josh Ferguson more in the ground game would be a major boost to West Lunt. Ferguson didn’t break 20 carries once last year. As a result, Illinois was 112nd in time of possession. With Dudek’s injury, there will be even more pressure on Lunt and a relatively inexperienced receiving core to step up. Ferguson can still be a fixture in the passing game — he’s one of three players in FBS with 1,500 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards — but he needs to lead a more balanced attack in 2015.
Eliminate ground game
Nobody in the Big Ten allowed more rushing yards than the Illini. Only six other teams in FBS were worse against the run. Jihad Ward and Mason Monheim will look to solidify a unit that needs to improve. The return of linebacker Mike Svetina, who missed last year with a broken foot, will certainly help. Beckman made the atypical decision not to fire defensive coordinator Tim Banks, but to make him co-defensive coordinator alongside former NFL assistant Mike Phair. Illinois could use some accountability on the defensive side, so maybe the move will pay off. The first half of the schedule is loaded with run-heavy teams. If the Illini can’t figure out their defensive issues, the road to six wins won’t be an easy one.