CHAMPAIGN – Jonathan Brown can see the potential on film.
There are moments, however fleeting, when the Illinois defense resembles a stout unit – when each player minds his gap and makes the tackle he is supposed to make. That’s one team, the senior linebacker said.
Then there is that other team. The one that allowed 624 rushing yards over its previous two games against Nebraska and Wisconsin. That one showed up a little more frequently.
“When I turn on the film, I see two different teams,” Brown said. “At one point in the game, I see a team that can’t be stopped when we execute and make the tackles we’re supposed to make. We could be a really good defense. But you look even further at some points in the game, and we just lose it.”
Brown, an elder statesman of the defense, has put the onus on himself to try to keep it together. But he can’t make it alone.
“The lack of senior leadership on defense is starting to show itself,” said Brown, one of two senior starters on the depth chart. “It’s one thing to have a lot of young guys that can play, and it’s one thing to have a lot of seniors that can make the plays.”
His job might be a touch easier Saturday than it has been. Michigan State comes to town, and though the Spartans are no doormat, their rushing attack averages nearly 100 fewer yards per game than Wisconsin and Nebraska.
The Illini have to be careful not to overcompensate for previous shortcomings.
“We’ve done some good things on defense and we’ve done some bad things, and the bad things have been blaring,” coach Tim Beckman said. “It’s not an effort thing. It’s almost overpursuing at times … trying to make a play and they don’t make a play.”
The defense is building for the future. As a senior with NFL aspirations, Brown wants that future sped up. However, he understands better results require more patience.
“If it doesn’t happen this year, I know this group of guys will mature and they’ll be a good team,” Brown said. “But I’m not counting out this season.”