2019 ILLINOIS FOOTBALL SCOUTING REPORT
Illinois’ defense has relied on takeaways in the signature way
of a Lovie Smith unit. The Illini have scored 125 points off of
turnovers in 2019, over double the amount their opponents
have, including a national-leading six defensive touchdowns.
Illinois’ other national ranks include second in turnovers
gained (28), second in forced fumbles (18), second in fumble
recoveries (16), and seventh in turnover margin (+0.9 per
The defense as a whole has made huge improvements from
2018 to 2019, including in the most important area – points
allowed. The Illini are allowing 14.0 less points per game
than last season (39.4 to 25.4), moving up 70 spots in the
national rankings for points allowed. Total defense has shown
an improvement of nearly 100 yards per game (508.3 to 409.6)
from last year to this year.
Two linebackers, senior Dele Harding and junior Jake Hansen,
are the centerpieces to Illinois’ 4-3 base defense. Hansen
leads the nation in forced fumbles with seven, despite missing
the fi nal three games of the year, on his way to being named
one of 12 Butkus Award semifi nalists in the nation. Harding
turned in one of the top tackling seasons in Illinois history,
making 147 stops to rank 10th in Illini single-season history
for tackles. Harding, an All-Big Ten fi rst team selection by the
media, also added 13.0 TFLs, three interceptions, and three
forced fumbles. Hansen totaled 72 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, and 3.5
Junior Milo Eifl er, a transfer from Washington and native of
Berkeley, Calif., is Illinois’ third linebacker and has 59 tackles
and 9.0 TFLs on the season.
Junior defensive end and Southern California grad transfer
Oluwole Betiku Jr. leads the pass rush with 8.0 sacks as part
of his 11.5 TFLs. Betiku had over 1/3 of Illinois’ sacks despite
also missing three games with injuries. He is joined on the
defensive line by star defensive tackle Jamal Milan, who
racked up 8.5 TFLs from the interior.
In the secondary, juniors Nate Hobbs and Tony Adams have
received a bulk of the starts at corner, and senior Stanley Green
and sophomore Sydney Brown have solidifi ed the secondary.
Brown tied with Harding for the team-lead in interceptions
with three, including an important 76-yard interception return
for a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Michigan State as part
of the biggest comeback victory in Fighting Illini history.
Illinois’ offense is led by a group of veterans in senior running
backs Dre Brown and Reggie Corbin, junior quarterback
Brandon Peters, and junior wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe.
Career 2,000-yard rusher Corbin is the headliner for offensive
coordinator Rod Smith. Corbin ranks 12th in Illinois history in
rushing yards (2,320) and could catch Illini legend Howard
Griffi th (2,485 rushing yards) for 11th with a big effort during
the bowl game. Corbin and Dre Brown split carries in 2019
with Brown rushing for 545 yards and fi ve touchdowns and
Corbin going for 634 yards and six touchdowns.
Peters, a Michigan graduate transfer, provided the Illini with
a solid and secure arm behind center to go 6-4 in 10 starts in
2019. He missed two games with injuries but still managed
to throw for 1,611 yards and 17 touchdowns with seven
Nine of Peter’s 17 touchdown passes went to fellow transfer
Imatorbhebhe, a graduate of Southern California. Imatorbhebhe
entered Illinois’ top 10 for receiving touchdowns in a season,
as nine of his 33 catches went for six points. He led Illinois in
receiving yards with 634 and averaged 19.1 yards per catch.
Illinois’ offensive line was a solid, and perhaps underrated
part of the Illini’s success. Junior Vederian Lowe, sophomore
Kendrick Green, junior Doug Kramer, senior Richie Petitbon,
and junior Alex Palczewski started all 12 games across the line.
Palczewski has stared 35 straight games, while Green (24),
Lowe (25), and Kramer (27) are all nearing 30 straight starts in
Orange and Blue. Petitbon fi lled the right guard spot after grad
transferring from Alabama.
Illinois has one of the top special teams units in the country, led
by special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky, Big Ten Punter
of the Year Blake Hayes, and the strong leg of kicker James
Hayes had one of the best seasons in Illinois history in 2019.
The Melbourne, Australia, native set the Illini single-season
record for punts inside the 20 (28), tied the single-season
record for 50+-yard punts (20), and ranks second in Illini
history in season punting average (44.8). Hayes became the
second Illini to win one of the Big Ten’s 11 position awards,
which were created in 2011.
McCourt provided the Fighting Illini with its signature moment
of the season when he kicked the game-winning 39-yard fi eld
goal to beat No. 6 Wisconsin as time expired at Memorial
Stadium. The fi eld goal fi nished the biggest upset in Memorial
Stadium history as the 29.5-point underdog Illini handed the
playoff-seeking Badgers their fi rst loss of the season. McCourt
fi nished the regular season 11-of-17 on fi eld goals and tied
the Illinois single-season record with four 50+-yard fi eld goals,
including a long of 57 yards against Eastern Michigan to tie the
44-year old school record for longest made fi eld goal.