Road games are never easy, but many expected the Illini (1-2, 1-0 Big Ten) to put up a better fight than they did this past Saturday. Bret Bielema’s squad managed just 337 yards and two touchdowns in the 42-14 loss to Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers (2-0, 0-0 ACC). The Illini defense had a bad day themselves, allowing 556 total yards.
Art Sitkowski got his second consecutive start as incumbent Brandon Peters missed his second straight game. Sitkowski 24-for-45 for 221 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His lone touchdown pass came in the first half, when he threaded the ball between two defenders to find converted quarterback Duece Spann, who made a nice catch in the end zone.
The Illini run game was a bit of a mixed bag. Chase Brown had seven attempts for 41 yards and one touchdown in his return from injury. Jakari Norwood and Josh McCray both chipped in with 35 and 33 yards respectively. At times, the Illini run game looked very good and at other times, slightly less so.
Cavalier quarterback Brennan Armstrong had a day to remember tossing five touchdowns while going 27-for-36 for 405 yards through the air. Armstrong also threw one interception. Virginia tight end Jelani Woods had five catches for 122 yards and one score to lead the team in receiving. Virginia ran a lot of “trick” plays including a lot of pre-snap movement and the Illini seemed ill-prepared to handle it.
This loss drops the Illini below .500 ahead of next weekend’s conference clash with Maryland in Champaign. Many things need to be addressed for the Illini to get back on track starting with their pass defense. Last season, it was a glaring weakness and so far, it seems that the trend has continued into this season. Several things need to be addressed before next week’s game with their pass defense being chief among them.