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Player to Watch: Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot

If nothing else, the Illini can pass rush.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

It shouldn’t be overly hard for Iowa fans to remember Dawuane Smoot. In addition to his fantastic name, Smoot was a bright spot on an Illinois defense that gave up 256 yards to Jordan Canzeri when the Illini came to town last season. His four tackles against the Hawkeyes — one of which was a sack — don’t jump off the page, but after watching the following highlight tape, the memory of this week’s Player to Watch came back easy.

Smoot — a 6-3, 255-pound defensive end — does damage along with fellow DE Carroll Phillips. They’re the key components to a formidable pass rush that’s totaled 23 sacks through 10 games, which is tied for fourth in the Big Ten. Smoot has three, Carroll has eight. Not bad production from the seniors.

Watching the tape, you’ll see a quality amount of speed — watch the lateral jump off the ball during the first play of two nice ones in a row in this gif.

At his size, that’s pretty damn impressive. I left the next play in there as well, because it’s a decent pass rush too. Tommy Armpunt stood strong in the pocket and ended up completing a pass for a nice gain, but it’s still good as a frame of reference for Smoot.

While this next video highlights Smoot, it’s useful to see how the Illini defense operates as a whole. Yes, it’s the first game of the season against Murray State, but these guys can pressure the quarterback and take dudes down in the backfield if the offensive line isn’t doing its job and a back isn’t there to help.

Again, Murray State, but the word that pops into my head when watching Smoot is ‘violent.’

All of this isn’t to say Smoot is unstoppable — no pass rush is. It’ll take a solid game to slow this unit that Lovie Smith’s sure to be spending a lot of time with down. The Hawkeyes allowed three sacks, six TFLs, and two quarterback hurries in the win over Michigan last Saturday.

This Smoot-Iowa offensive line #matchup should be one of the more interesting ones to watch in a game that — in theory — should be the easiest one remaining all season.