After ranking near the bottom of nearly every major category last season, the Illini defense needed to step up in 2019. Though it’s only been two games, they look like they are turning the corner, and graduate transfer defensive lineman Oluwole Betiku Jr. is a big reason why.
The former five-star defensive end prospect never really got going at USC, where he recorded just two tackles and no sacks over 14 games in two seasons before sitting out 2018 due to hip surgery.
When Betiku chose Illinois as his destination, he knew he had an opportunity to make an immediate impact. Last season, the Illini ranked 128th of 130 in yards allowed per game (508) and 102nd in sacks (21). His impact has certainly been felt early on, as he leads the nation in both sacks (5) and tackles for loss (6.5) after an impressive 3.5 sack performance at UConn on Saturday.
As a whole, the Illini defense looks more dangerous this season. They currently rank 18th in yards allowed per game (239) and third in sacks (11). A big reason behind the improvement in overall defense can be attributed to Betiku and company blowing up the line to stuff the run game (74 total rushing yards allowed) and take away time from opposing quarterbacks.
That being said, it’s still early. Big Ten opponents will pose a much bigger challenge for this Illini defense. However, if they weren’t wreaking havoc against non-conference opponents, that would be a cause for concern. With injuries to Bobby Roundtree and Marquez Beason before the season even started, Illinois needed a defensive playmaker to step up, and Oluwole Betiku Jr. has done just that.
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