Illinois Fighting Illini Showing a VASTLY Improved Run Defense



Through the first three games of the season, there’s one facet of the 2010 Illinois Fighting Illini football team that is GREATLY improved over the 2009 squad- run defense. The Illini were terrible against the run last year, finishing ninth in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed per game, and within the bottom third nationally.

Through the first two games, the Illini ranked 12th in the nation with 72.0 yards allowed per game, and 22nd nationally in points allowed (13.0 per game) They did surrender 163 yards on the ground and 22 points to MAC foe NIU today, but the comparison over last year is still very favorable.

In 2010, the defense has yielded 48 points and 999 yards through the first three contests, while last year the Illini gave up 84 points and and 1,158 yards. That’s a difference of 12 points and 50+ yards per game.

And the change starts at the top, with new Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning in place.

By Paul M. Banks

“I saw that this spring in Coach Koenning and (Offensive Coordinator Paul) Petrino, completely different mindset when it comes to coordinating,” said Junior Defensive Tackle Corey Liuget.

“I’ve never been pushed the way I have been pushed by these guys since I’ve been here.  They are the real deal.”

Liuget was second on the ’09 squad in tackles for a loss, and focused tremendously on conditioning this offseason.

“Being that I lost about 20 lbs, I would say my quickness is my biggest strength now,” Liguet said.

The Illini have given up their share of big plays, but they are also finding the opponents’ backfield much more often. They had 6 tackles for a loss today, just below their two game average of 8.5 per game. Which was good for first in the Big Ten and 14th in the nation.

Koenning knows there’s a lot more work to be done though, especially with a bye week to prepare for #2 Ohio State two Saturdays from now.

“We have to play with a little more intensity and a little more electricity than we did today. Our personality on defense has got to be one where we don’t give up anything. And we need to be extremely disappointed in giving up those big plays. But happy in the outcome, let’s not lose sight of  that. We’re extremely happy that our defense came in and drove down the field at a key time,” Koenning said.

Head Coach Ron Zook said at Big Ten Media Day, and he reiterated at Illini Media Day, he believes that this squad has as much talent if not more than the 2007 Rose Bowl squad.

I asked Liguet what he thought of that quote.

“I agree, but talent is nothing if we don’t push it. That’s what happened last year, we didn’t push it everyday. We came out playing around, we weren’t serious and it showed on the field when Saturdays came around. Talent won’t get you anywhere unless you have the time and effort to go with it. Then there’s a difference,” he said.

It will take a lot more time and effort to get the Illini back to the Rose Bowl, but there has been some noticeable improvements thus far. After three games, the Illini are over .500 for the first time since Nov 7th, 2008. So that’s a start.

We’ll know how much progress they’ve really made when the Buckeyes visit on October 2nd.

Paul M. Banks is President and CEO of The Sports , a Midwest focused webzine. He is also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, the Chicago Tribune’s blog network, Walter, the Washington Times Communities, Yardbarker Network, and Fox

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank and @bigtenguru


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