- All five starting spots on Illinois’ offensive line were filled by different players than in Week 1.
• Illinois started seven true freshmen (CB Nate Hobbs, DE Bobby Roundtree, DE Isaiah Gay, RB Mike Epstein, TE Louis Dorsey, OL Alex Palczewski, OL Larry Boyd).
• Illinois’ seven true freshmen starters are the most in a game in program history. The previous high was five, which last happened Nov. 11, 2006 against Purdue (QB Juice Williams, WR Chris James, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, CB Vontae Davis, S Travon Bellamy). Prior to that, the last time was Nov. 5, 1977 against Ohio State (TE Lee Boeke, FB Wayne Strader, LB John Gillen, LB John Scott, LB Earnest Adams).
• Illinois started four true freshmen on offense for the first time ever. The previous high was three with the last time occuring Nov. 8, 2008 against Western Michigan (WR Fred Sykes, RB Jason Ford, RT Jeff Allen).
• Illinois started two true freshmen on the offensive line (OL Larry Boyd, OL Alex Palczewski) for the first time ever.
• Illinois started two true freshmen on the defensive line (DE Isaiah Gay, DE Bobby Roundtree) for the first time since Nov. 1, 1980 against Minnesota (DT Mark Butkus, DE Jim Covington).
• llinois had six first-time starters – two on defense (CB Nate Hobbs, DE Isaiah Gay) and four on offense (OL Larry Boyd, OL Alex Palczewski, RB Mike Epstein, TE Louis Dorsey). All were true freshmen.
• Illinois’ five true freshmen started on defense this season is the most in an Illini season since 1980 (6).
• Five Illinois true freshmen played for the first time in their career (DE Owen Carney Jr., RB Ra’Von Bonner, LB Marc Mondesir, OL Alex Palczewski, DL Jamal Woods)
• Western Kentucky was held under 10 points for the first time since losing 35-0 at Alabama 9/8/2012.
• Western Kentucky’s six rushing yards were its lowest since at least 2000. WKU had -5 rushing yards in the second half.
• 23 Illini made at least one tackle. Zero Illini had more than six tackles.
• Illinois’ defense scored as many points as Western Kentucky’s offense.
• Illinois had 15 more minutes of time of possession (37:54-22:06).
• Illinois Week 2 captains: OL Nick Allegretti, WR Mike Dudek, LBTre Watson
• Junior LB Julian Jones returned an interception for a touchdown in the second quarter. It was Illinois’ first interception returned for a touchdown since Darius Mosely at Rutgers 10/15/2016. It was his first career interception.
• Freshman RB Mike Epstein had 21 carries for 111 yards. He is the first Illinois true freshman to eclipse 100 yards rushing since Ke’Shawn Vaughn at Purdue 11/7/2015.
• Freshman DE Bobby Roundtree had 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble. He has 3.0 sacks through his first two college games.
• Junior QB Chayce Crouch completed a career-high 14 passes for 107 yards. He added 44 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
• Freshman RB Ra’Von Bonner made his college debut, rushing 12 times for 25 yards.
• Junior WR Mike Dudek was Illinois’ leading receiver with six catches for 46 yards on 11 targets.
• Senior WR Malik Turner has caught a pass in 22 straight games, which is among the top 20 longest active streaks in the nation.
Illinois Head Coach Lovie Smith
“Playing a ball club like this really gets you up a little bit. Especially when you’re underdogs at home, that’s saying a lot about the type of team we had coming in. Our guys stepped up to the plate. We knew they (Western Kentucky) had a very good quarterback, good skill guys, it was going to be a challenge for our young defensive line and our young secondary. They really stepped up to the table. Last week we weren’t really good on third down with third down conversions. Tonight of course, a lot of second game improvement from that side. Offensively, of course Mike Epstein did a great job last week. You know 100 yards, that’s saying an awful lot. We started two true freshmen, Alex (Palczewski) and Larry (Boyd), both of them side-by-side did an excellent job, as did the rest of our offensive line. So, I feel really good about the win. You know, one of our goals going into the season was to finish 3-0 with our nonconference schedule. We have a chance to do that. Injury wise, Nate Echard went down with a serious knee injury. I think the rest of the guys were able to come back. It was unfortunate that we lost Tre Watson on the hit. That will knock you back a little bit when you lose the leader of your defense. But, it’s always next guy up. Big team win, of course. Nothing like seeing a football team celebrate in the locker room after a big win.”
On how much improvement he saw from Week one to Week two…
“A lot. I’ve talked a lot about that we should see a lot of second-game improvement. Especially when you have a young ball club like we do. They’re being put in situations that are new to them each week. But, again they stepped up to the plate and they’re taking advantage of it.”
On the energy level of the defense…
“You should be excited when you make big plays. They know how important those plays are. It’s a close-knit group, and they realize what they need to do as much as anything. So, to accomplish some of that is big.”
On his reaction to Mike Epstein’s start to the season…
“He’s been like that throughout camp. Normally, if you practice that way you’ll have a chance to be playing that way. The first game, no one really knows anything about you. The second game, everyone knew he started. Again, you want to see young guys take that type of step their second time out.”
On the play of the young defensive line…
“Whenever you’re a freshman and you’ve moved into the starting lineup in a Big Ten school, it’s saying an awful lot about you and what we think of you. We put guys out there that we think can win football games. Bobby Roundtree has been a good player since he’s been on campus. Isaiah Gay has done the same thing; Jamal Woods. Those players have earned the reps they’ve gotten. I know we talk an awful lot about the freshman, but we have other young players. Jamal Milan is a young player. Tymir Oliver is a young player. Kenyon Jackson. There are a lot of those guys really stepping up to the plate.”
WR Mike Dudek
On how the defense played…
“I thought they played lights out. They had our backs the whole game. They really shut down their passing attack, which was the main part of their offense. To get that score for us was huge. Anytime you can get a defensive score, it definitely helps out the offense.”
On the growth of the younger players…
“I thought they grew a lot. The first game is usually really tough, especially for those young guys, to see where they’re all at. They all stepped up tonight and made some big plays for us.”
On opening the season 2-0…
“There’s no better feeling than getting a win. I know a lot of these guys are my best friends. We’ve been working for nine months now. To come out the underdogs at home and to get the win was pretty special for us.”
QB Chayce Crouch
On being the underdog providing extra motivation…
“We’re a very self-motivating team. I think our program has been through a lot, so it doesn’t really take much to motivate us at all. We come into every game hungry. You have the underdog at home thing. No matter who we’re playing, yeah, it’s a little bit of disrespect, we felt like. Really internally, we’re a very motivated football team.”
On the defense’s performance…
“Lights out. They played great. They really held a great offense to not many points at all. Credit to them. They played a great game.”
On getting the offense going in the second half…
“I think when we came in at halftime we were talking about our game plan going back out, and we had a lot of confidence in it. Coming out with the ball, every time you start the second half with the ball, I mean it helps a little bit, too. Fast start, coming right out of the locker room, we were going right away.”
LB Julian Jones
On his interception returned for a touchdown…
“That was definitely a momentum play, especially on defense. Going up two scores, that relieves a lot of pressure. You can make them do one thing or any other. We knew they had to throw the ball a lot more than they wanted to. I feel like we really keyed in and made the plays we were supposed to make today.”
On seeing the play:
“My key was the quarterback the entire play; I had my eyes on him the entire play. As soon as the ball was in the air, I knew it was coming right to me, so I just took it to the end zone.”
On becoming a starter:
“It’s just a process throughout the whole year. You have to be prepared whenever your number is called. That was what my thought process was coming into it. I was just ready when my number was called to make a play I was supposed to make.”
RB Mike Epstein
On being named the starter…
“Nothing really changed for me. I was still attacking every day with my best effort and preparing for the week ahead.”
On players from Florida preparing for the game with the hurricane going on…
“It’s a little distracting because it’s our family. Our loved ones are down there going through a serious storm, but we have to put it aside for our job. It’s tough, but we talk to them. We communicate to each other and pray for them.”
On the Illini’s first drive of the second half…
“We prepared in the locker room at halftime. We knew what we wanted to do and needed to do. We went out there, and we had to execute and did that.”
Western Kentucky Head Coach Mike Sanford
“Disappointing for us to come here, a great venue and a great opportunity for the program. It was a ball game that was close at halftime. The message for the team and the coaches, myself included, and anybody who made the trip here to Champaign: we all share in the loss. We all have to dig deep and look down deep into what we can do better, what our preparation could have been. That puts our players in a better position to be successful. As players, what are the thing you could have done to be better from a preparation standpoint? Disappointing offensive performance; I thought they fought, battled hard, and we all shared in the burden of losing tonight from a team standpoint. Proud of the effort, proud of the defensive effort in particular.”
On how to motivate the offense…
“It’s a getting-to-know process, a little bit. When you look at it from a personnel standpoint, who was out there in the game, we’re finding out a bit more about who the guys are that handle the bright lights. That’s hard to simulate until you go out and do it. That’s what we’re going to have to look at, who are the guys that really stepped up and played. Right off the bat, Nacarius Fant (Sr., WR) is a guy who needs to be in the game all the time. He’s a guy that showed a will to win, made plays, was intellectually sound in his operation of the offense. I think it’s just having the right people run in the right place. It sounds simple, but it’s just personneling ourselves to put out the best players that are handling the bright lights the best.”
On issues with the offensive line…
“I’ll have to look at the film. I think we’re losing some on-on-one matchups right now. We have to rely on our technique. There’s too much pressure early on in the game for Mike (White) to get comfortable and it’s not really generated by a lot of blitz, per se. There wasn’t a ton of pressure. But I trust in those guys and I know Mike is going to trust in those guys. We have to get back to our technique. We have to give great looks in scout teams so they’re feeling the defensive pass-rush. And then the run game, I just think that we have to do a good job sustaining blocks. We didn’t sustain blocks. We’re close. The penalties get you behind the chains, and we’re not there yet, obviously from tonight’s performance, to where we need to be.”
On the penalties…
“We had a chance to really, really be in the game and make some noise. I think the decisions in particular, going for it on fourth down, that decision offensively, that I made, and not getting that first down and being short by a yard. Those are situations where we would’ve had a chance to go up and take a lead, the game takes on a different life. But that’s a defense that’s going to make you earn everything. They’re (Illinois) not a defense that gives up a ton of big plays. They didn’t on film against Ball State. Ball state had to methodically grind it out, and they did a better job of it than we did. We have to kick start our offense next week.”
QB Mike White
On being 1-1…
“It has to change. We have to take this as a learning experience and we can’t get down on ourselves. We can’t start fighting with each other. We have to come together even more and we just have to keep pushing. We’re 1-1, it’s a long season ahead of us and we have to remember that. It’s on our captains to remind our team of that and just keep pushing.”
On throwing the pick six…
“We decided to take a shot, and by the time I was out of my drop, I was in the back of the end zone and I didn’t really know what to do. I tried to get it out of bounce and I couldn’t plant my feet and turn my hips enough. Bad football play.”
On playing Illinois…
“We did put some of those plays together against a very good Big Ten team and we have to keep pushing. Whenever you see a good football team you know you’re going to have to execute and play perfectly in order to win the game, and I think they did a really good job. They put their good players on one-on-one islands, and they won those battles at times. We just have to be better.”
LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe
On playing in primetime…
“We had a lot of energy. I love these types of games. I made sure the guys were ready tonight and were amped up for a Big Ten game at their place. These are the types of games you live for, but there were a lot of things we didn’t do tonight.”
On the young players…
“Those guys are going to be really good. They came out today and we’re excited about them. Every week we’re going to get better. Every game they play, the more experience they get.”
WR Nacarius Fant
On the environment…
“We made a lot of mistakes early tonight that cost us, in the environment like this it was hard to get back from.”
On defensive play versus offensive play…
“We have to get our team together as one. The defense tonight played their butts off, and our offense has to come in and give it our all. We need to step up. Lot of chances where we were getting completions then we shot ourselves in the foot. Next week we can’t be doing that, going into conference play against Louisiana Tech, or they’re going to take advantage of that also.”