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Illinois football preview: Getting defensive | Sports


Beat author Bob Asmussen sizes up the Illinois protection forward of the 2020 season that kicks off Friday night time in opposition to Sixteenth-ranked Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

Preseason MVP:

Jake Hansen, linebacker

Final yr, he was a Butkus Award semifinalist. This yr, he’s already on the watch record for the dignity, named after the previous Illini nice.

His transfer to center linebacker ought to improve each his statistics and the play of the protection. He would be the quarterback of the unit and pile up a excessive deal with depend after he made 72 tackles in 2019.

He has realized effectively from the Illini coaches, who stress takeaways at each flip. A yr in the past, regardless of lacking the ultimate 4 video games, he led the nation with seven compelled fumbles. That’s a ability that doesn’t go away.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound product of Tarpon Springs, Fla., is the son of former BYU standout Shad, who’s the college’s profession chief in tackles.

Hansen follows a protracted line of profitable linebackers in C-U, a listing that features Dana Howard, Kevin Hardy, John Holecek, Darrick Brownlow, Danny Clark, J Leman, Mason Monheim and, in fact, Butkus.

Mr. Dependable:

Nate Hobbs, cornerback

The native of Louisville, Ky., got here in as a freshman in 2017 and, with out the good thing about a redshirt season, jumped instantly into the lineup. He earned Large Ten All-Freshman honors.

His junior season was his finest at Illinois, with a career-high 67 tackles, and he scored his first landing at Illinois on a fumble return in opposition to Rutgers final November in Champaign.

Thought of one of many high draft prospects on the present group, the 6-foot, 195-pound Hobbs has at the very least 9 extra video games to indicate scouts his potential.

Breakout participant:

Marquez Beason, cornerback

Many anticipated the highest recruit within the Class of 2019 to get on the sector instantly. And that appeared doubtless till a coaching camp harm compelled him to have surgical procedure and miss the season.

A possible two-way participant (he’s a proficient receiver), the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Beason will doubtless persist with protection within the close to future.

Having the ability to watch and study from Hobbs and security Tony Adams has been a assist for the Texan. When Beason signed at Illinois, he was one of many highest-rated gamers to choose the college in years. His provide sheet included Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Oregon.

Illinois has good depth within the secondary, but when Beason exhibits Large Ten potential, the coaches will get him on the sector in a rush.

Must step up:

Isaiah Homosexual, defensive finish

No place on the group bought hit tougher by commencement and early departures than the line of defense.

The group misplaced Jamal Milan, Tymir Oliver, Kenyon Jackson and Oluwole Betiku, who led the group with 9 sacks.

Homosexual began 5 video games in 2019 and completed with a career-best 27 tackles.

With the heavy losses from 2019, he will likely be requested to do extra. He joined the group similtaneously Bobby Roundtree and their ability units appeared comparable. Roundtree turned a standout earlier than his profession was lower quick by a Could 2019 swimming accident that has left him paralyzed.

Homosexual has an opportunity to develop into one of the best Illini move rusher this season. If he does, he’ll comply with within the footsteps of Roundtree and make his former teammate proud.

Numbers recreation: 28

That’s what number of turnovers Illinois produced in 2019, which led the Large Ten and ranked among the many finest within the nation.

Not solely did the Illini go get the ball, they did one thing with it. Illinois scored six touchdowns on protection, which tied Appalachian State for probably the most within the nation.

One other telling quantity: the Illini protection scored 14 p.c of the group’s touchdowns.

They mentioned it

“All people likes the large hits and the sacks. However as a defensive participant, we wish that landing. We wish a choose six and a sack fumble. We wish the turnovers. We wish takeaways. They name it Lovie Ball. All of us match that character of wanting to attain. It’s our plan to attain each time. All of us purchased into it. If one man will get one, all people else needs to get one.”

— Illinois linebacker Delano Ware on the group’s emphasis on takeaways



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