Week 7 scouting report | Illinois

After an 0-3 start, the Fighting Illini have rattled off two victories in a row.


Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa line backer Kristian Welch rushes Illinois quarter back Brandon Peters during the game against Illinois on Saturday, November 23, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 19-10.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Prior to the 2019 season, Illinois football hadn’t made a bowl game in five years. Last season, the Fighting Illini secured a bowl invitation with a 6-6 overall record – meeting the six-win criterion for bowl eligibility.

This season hasn’t been as kind to Illinois.

Including its loss to California in the Redbox Bowl, Illinois concluded the 2019 season on a three-game losing streak. Unfortunately for the Illini, that streak extended well into 2020 as they dropped their first three games of the season – twice in blowout fashion.

Illinois opened its 2020 campaign with a 45-7 loss to Wisconsin, followed up by a 41-14 loss to Minnesota just two weeks later. In between the Wisconsin and Minnesota games, the Illini lost a heartbreaker to Purdue, 31-24.

Illinois’ six-game losing streak was finally snapped Nov. 14 with 23-20 win over Rutgers in Piscataway, New Jersey.

Now, the Fighting Illini are finally gaining some traction. Prior to the cancellation of its Nov. 28 matchup with Ohio State in Champaign because of COVID-19 complications within the Buckeye program, Illinois thumped Nebraska, 41-23, in Lincoln.

The Illini’s lack of success can be partly attributed to the rotating cast of quarterbacks they’ve had taking snaps under center this season.

So far, Week 1 starter Brandon Peters has only played in two games – once at Wisconsin and a second time at Nebraska. Peters missed four games after testing positive for COVID-19 the morning of Illinois’ Oct. 31 game against Purdue. Second-string quarterback Isaiah Williams was also forced into the Big Ten’s quarantine protocol as he was a close contact of Peters.

So, third-string quarterback Matt Robinson was named Illinois’ starter Oct. 31. But, his time in the spotlight didn’t last. He completed three of his first four passes before he was benched for fourth-stringer Taylor Coran.

In two games, Coran threw for 379 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Williams cleared his quarantine period in time for the Rutgers game, and the former five-star recruit showed why he was a highly-touted prospect in high school. Williams ran 31 times for 194 yards and a touchdown. He also connected on seven passes for 106 yards. The performance earned Williams Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

No matter who has been under center this season – whether it be a runner like Williams or a pocket passer like Peters – the Fighting Illini haven’t been shy about using their quarterbacks’ legs as weapons.

On two occasions this season, an Illinois passer was also the team’s leading rusher. In addition to Williams’ Week 4 performance, Peters’ 84 yards on the ground led the Illini against the Badgers in Madison.

In his two starts, Coran was also effective in the run game, producing 149 rushing yards. Coran and Williams led the Illini in rush attempts in every game they played, and Peters ranked top three in carries in both of his starts.

Illinois’ quarterback rushing attack might be one of Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s biggest concerns this Saturday. This season, Iowa hasn’t been great at containing mobile QBs.

Penn State’s Will Levis racked up 59 yards rushing in his Nov. 21 appearance against the Hawkeyes before he was benched in favor of Sean Clifford in the third quarter. Levis was the Nittany Lions’ leading rusher in that game.

The following week, Iowa surrendered 90 yards to the two Cornhusker QBs taking snaps. Starter Adrian Martinez averaged four yards per carry on 12 attempts for 48 yards and a touchdown. When Martinez was subbed out, backup Luke McCaffery carried the ball five times for 42 yards.

Illinois defeated Nebraska by a larger margin than Iowa did in its 26-20 win over the Cornhuskers. The Illini’s larger margin of victory over a common opponent and capable QB ground game may indicate that a tougher-than-expected Saturday may be ahead for the Hawkeyes.

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