The undefeated Illinois Fighting Illini went into the game vs. the 22nd-ranked, 2-0 South Florida Bulls with a lot of confidence. However, the teams they beat, Ball State and Western Kentucky, are not nearly as talented as USF. It showed, as the Bulls ran all over Illinois in Tampa, 47-23.
The game started off competitive, with the Illini blocking a field goal and returning a blocked extra point for 2 points. However, it seemed like every time Illinois made a big play, a penalty flag flew to the benefit of USF. The Illini finished the game with 15 penalties for 138 yards.
The lack of experience repeatedly showed for Illinois. After the first quarter, USF did whatever they wanted on offense, led by quarterback Quinton Flowers. Flowers and the Bulls ran 98 total plays in the game. He finished with 386 total yards passing and rushing, along with 5 touchdowns.
With the game out of reach, however, Illinois never stopped fighting, scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter. Although there is a long way to go to compete with the best teams in college football, this was another valuable learning experience for Lovie Smith and his team.
Here are a couple major points from the game that I think are worth mentioning.
Jeff George Jr. getting time at Quarterback
With the game basically out of reach and the offense sputtering, the Illini coaching staff inserted Jeff George Jr. in at quarterback in replace of Chayce Crouch. George looked impressive, finishing the game 12-22 for 211 yards passing with 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
With George orchestrating two touchdown drives late in the game with an offense that was previously struggling, is there now a quarterback controversy in Champaign? The next week of practice should be interesting.
Mike Epstein continues to impress
Mike Epstein once again had a great game for Illinois, and is flashing potential that is exciting Illini fans. He finished the game with 8 carries for 56 yards and 1 touchdown, and also had 2 receptions for 27 yards and 1 touchdown.
The Illini have a bye week to recover before they take on the 1-2 Nebraska Cornhuskers in Champaign on Friday, September 29.