Illinois Football: Illini Team Grades Through 6 Games

Illinois Football

Oct 15, 2016; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini quarterback Chayce Crouch (7) rushes against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at High Points Solutions Stadium. Illinois defeated Rutgers 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Illinois football team is 2-4 through six games this season and hopefully, this team can continue to progress.

One of the main issues this season has been with the offense.  This offense started the first three games this season not too well.

Illinois continued trying to find answers on their offense through the next three games, though.

Fans have received some of these answers, but there are many question marks still out there.

Here are the grades for the Illinois offense through six games this season.

QUARTERBACK (D+)

Through the first three games, this season the quarterback play received a D- for their play on the field.

Well, this grade will change slightly because the quarterback situation changed in the middle of the fifth game of the season against Purdue.

Wes Lunt went down with an injury in that game against the Boilermakers.  In came Chayce Crouch with zero starts to his name.

Crouch did well in the time he played against Purdue.  He wasn’t great through the air but he added a running element to the offense.

The first start of Crouch’s career came against Rutgers in the sixth game this season.  In that game, he threw for 92 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

But, what was most impressive was how Crouch’s running ability opens up holes for the running backs.

Crouch enables Garrick McGee to run the read option more effectively.  He is a serious threat to run the ball and that makes defenders bite on the fake.

Illinois finished with 228 yards rushing in that game and they won 24-7 over the Scarlet Knights.

The upcoming contests will really help tell if Crouch is a keeper or not.  He has No. 3 Michigan as his next challenge.

But, through six games this season I would have to bump the Illini quarterbacks grade up to a D+.  There is a slight improvement but I need to see more still.

Oct 15, 2016; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Reggie Corbin (2) rushes against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at High Points Solutions Stadium. Illinois defeated Rutgers 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACK (C+)

The running back situation has changed dramatically compared to what we were looking at after three games as well.

Through three games this season, Ke’Shawn Vaughn was the go-to-guy in the backfield.  But, they switched to a running back by committee pretty quick.

In the last three games, Vaughn has only seen four total carries for 34 yards.  That is a dramatic turn compared to his first three games where he carried the ball 40 times for 187 yards.

The original grade for the running backs was a C through three games.  That is going to change after six games because of the switch, though.

While Vaughn was essentially benched, it wasn’t a terrible move.  I think he will end up being a great running back but looking at what has happened in the last few weeks, it might not be with Illinois.

The two running backs who are getting most of the carries now are Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin.

Corbin really was the main running back to start taking carries away from Vaughn and rightfully so.  He has 35 carries for 325 yards and 1 touchdown this season.

I am impressed by Corbin’s moves and running ability.  In addition to that, he has a 9.3 yards per carry average which is amazing.

As of late, Foster has been getting more of the workload.  He is a bruising running back that has elusive speed.

I love how Foster has run the ball this season.  He likely has a chip on his shoulder from riding the pine for a few years until this point in his career.

Foster currently has 62 carries for 384 yards and 5 touchdowns this season.  He has a 6.2 yards per carry average, which is really good in college football.

Overall, that C grade I gave the Illini running backs after three games has now turned into a C+.  I think making this more of a committee backfield has done wonders to this offense.

Oct 15, 2016; Piscataway, NJ, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Malik Turner (11) runs against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the first half at High Points Solutions Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receivers (D+)

It is really difficult to grade the wide receivers up to this point.  I didn’t grade them the first time around for one reason or another.

But, the wide receivers haven’t been great up to this point.  I don’t think they are used to their capabilities.

The star wide receiver for the Illini through six games is clearly Malik Turner.

Turner has dominated the playing field this season.  He has 31 receptions for 427 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Compared to the wide receivers in the Big Ten, Turner currently sits No. 5 in receiving yards this season.

Turner would be the best wide receiver in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country if he actually had a quarterback who could throw him the ball.

But, the quarterback position is still a work in progress and Turner just has to deal with that fact.

The rest of the wide receiving core has been almost non-existent.  This weekend that will probably need to change, though.

Justin Hardee is No. 2 in receptions and yards for the team.  He has 11 catches for 106 yards this season.

Hardee is coming off a pretty large layoff due to an injury so this is around where I would have pegged him halfway through the season.

I am really disappointed in the progression of the other wide receivers, though.

I thought Desmond Cain would have a breakout season in 2016.  He had 492 yards last season and I was looking for an increase this year.

The lack of production for the Illinois wide receivers has to do with multiple factors.  But, overall, I think I have to give this group a D+ through six games.

Oct 8, 2016; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Justin Hardee (19), wide receiver Malik Turner (11), and offensive lineman Joe Spencer (71) celebrate after a 2 point conversion against the Purdue Boilermakers during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium. Purdue beat Illinois in overtime 34 to 31. Mandatory Credit: Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

OFFENSIVE LINE (C)

There have been all sorts of offensive line combinations this season that hasn’t exactly worked out for the best.

In the first three games this season I gave the offensive line a grade of D+.  There were some bright spots at times but for the most part, they really struggled.

The starting offensive line continues to change by the week.  Lovie Smith hasn’t posted the depth chart for the upcoming week but in weeks past it has changed every game.

Some of the bright spots for the Illini offensive line have been the development of young Gabe Megginson.

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Megginson is going to be a staple on the offensive line for years to come.  He has helped open up holes for the emerging running backs this season.

I also like that Darta Lee has seen some time as well.  He is a true freshman that will hopefully develop this season and will be a great help to the Illini next season.

This offensive line has started to develop as each game goes by.  They are really helping the running game tremendously.

Over the first three games, Illinois had two sub-200 yard rushing performances, including three yards against Western Michigan.

But, the last two games for the Illini have been impressive.

Illinois went over 300 yards rushing against Purdue and over 220 yards against Rutgers.  This type of rushing production boosts up the offensive lines grade.

Overall, the offensive line was a D+, but now I am going to give them a C for the first six games.

This group has started to come along and I can’t wait to see how they progress.

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