Illinois D has question marks after close win
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)
Anyone listening to coach Tim Beckman before the season knew the Illinois defense might have some problems with the pass.
On Saturday, the quarterback behind what is probably the most beatable team on Illinois' schedule highlighted just how big that problem might be.
Southern Illinois, led by quarterback Kory Faulkner, piled up 341 passing yards on the Illini (1-0) - 307 of them in the second half - before losing 42-34. That after Illinois led 25-7 at the half.
''I was happy, real happy with the way we played the first half,'' Beckman said. ''The second half is a whole other question.''
Next on Illinois' schedule is Cincinnati (1-0) at home on Saturday. The Bearcats, who had 222 yards on the ground and 202 more in the air in a 42-7 win over Purdue last Saturday, could be a significantly bigger challenge.
SIU didn't hurt Illinois on the ground, with just 66 yards. But the Salukis didn't have to.
SIU's passing yards and Faulkner's three touchdown passes put Illinois awfully close to joining the list of Bowl Subdivision teams that lost to their little brothers from the Championship Subdivision over Labor Day weekend.
Worse, Beckman said, the game provided a blueprint for any team to follow if the Illini don't start fixing their problems.
''We gave up the long ball too much,'' he said. ''Experience again shows that we're going to have to improve that each and every week because people are going to attack you off the things that you don't do so well every week.''
Faulkner completed a 35-yard touchdown pass, plus 66- and 39-yard gains, and he caught a 29-yarder.
Illinois started a junior, two sophomores and a redshirt freshman in the secondary, and two more freshmen saw the field. Earnest Thomas, the junior who started at strong safety, is the only defensive back with much experience.
Quarterback pressure was just as big of a problem.
The Illini never sacked Faulkner, and with just two quarterback hurries seldom pressured him.
Beckman credited the Salukis for getting the ball out of the backfield in a hurry. But he also acknowledged that Illinois will have to find a way to get to quarterbacks in the weeks ahead, and it starts with Houston Bates - who plays the Leo position, a hybrid defensive end and linebacker - and defensive end Tim Kynard.
''We've got to create ways to free up Houston Bates and free up Tim Kynard,'' he said. ''We've got to continue to add pressure with our linebackers.''
Those linebackers are the strength of defense, but were just ''decent'' against SIU, linebacker Jonathan Brown said. The defense as a whole, he acknowledged, has some work to do.
''We had like some mental lapses - guys out of positions, a couple of (missed assignments),'' he said. ''But like I said, those are things that can be fixed and will be fixed.''
Brown says he and the defense will take at least one good thing from Saturday's game. When it looked like the win was about to slip away, the young defense didn't collapse. On a fourth-and-goal with the Salukis down by eight, Faulkner threw just a few inches beyond the reach of receiver Michael Fuehne, giving the ball to Illinois for good.
''I was proud of the way we stood up and handled our business,'' Brown said. ''It's kind of good that the young guys got some experience like that.''
NOTES: Beckman hopes Injured guard Ted Karras will be available Saturday against Cincinnati, but isn't sure yet. Karras' replacement, Joe Spencer, ''did a good job'' in his first start. ... Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said part of the reason Illinois ran for just 49 yards Saturday was an SIU defense geared to stop the run. ''If a team really wants to take away the run, they're going to take away the run.'' ... Saturday's wins by FCS schools over their bigger FBS foes are a sign of where college football is headed, Beckman believes. ''It's become very balanced. Anybody has an opportunity.''