Illinois (3-5, 0-4) at Indiana (3-5, 1-3)
Time: 2:30pm Central
TV: Big Ten Network (Paul Burmeister, Chuck Long, Eric Crouch)
Line: Indiana -9
Forecast: 60 degrees, sunny, 19mph winds
Enemy Territory: The Crimson Quarry
THESE FOUR THINGS
1. Run The Dang Ball. I know that we're all expecting a shootout on Saturday. Seeing how the over/under is now up to 78, we know Vegas is too. Well, I don't know how much of a shootout we should want it to be, at least, not in the dropping back and passing all day sense. As all Illini fans are aware, the Illini have a bad run defense. While it seemed to finally start improving during the second half of last week's game, it still has a long way to go.
Well, Indiana isn't exactly a run-stuffing defense either.
Indiana is allowing 4.65 yards per carry on defense, and it's allowed 21 rushing touchdowns in eight games this season. So, if we want to, we should be able to move the ball on the ground this week, and not just with Josh Ferguson. The Illini should get Donovonn Young out of whatever cell they've been keeping in the last few weeks -- after averaging 12 carries a game in our first five games Young has had 11 carries total in the last three games -- and maybe give Aaron Bailey some time as well.
And I don't think they should do all of this just because I think they could find some success. I want them to do it to keep the Indiana offense off the field as much as possible. The Hoosiers offense is good, and can beat you through the air and on the ground, though the air is its preferred method. Frankly, the idea of this Air Raid attack going against our secondary worries me quite a bit. So I'd like to keep it on the sideline as often as possible.
Because you may think that the Illini can just trade touchdowns with Indiana all day, but odds are you're wrong. Indiana is averaging 39.5 points per game in four Big Ten games this season. The Illini? The Illini are averaging 17.8. Take out the Michigan State game and that number is still only 22.7.
2. Oh Man A Pass Rush Would Be Neat. The Illini defensive line looked better last week, but I want to see that improvement continue into this week. The return of Teko Powell to the line and the rotation definitely improved things, but it's not like this unit suddenly became great.
If it wants to on Saturday that would be cool.
Now, it's not easy to get sacks against the Hoosiers. Indiana has given up 11 sacks this season in eight games, but it's important to remember that the Hoosiers have also thrown 319 passes. Their sack rate of 3.67% actually ranks 21st in the country. Still, while you may not get to Nate Sudfeld or Tre Roberson -- both have played in every game this season -- for the sack, at least getting pressure in his face and making him throw before he really wants to would be beneficial to all involved.
Odds are our young secondary is going to find itself in man coverage quite a bit on Saturday afternoon, and I don't care who you are, you can only cover a receiver for so long before he gets open. Don't make them cover so long. Disrupt the timing.
3. TACKLE, DAMN YOU. TACKLE. These all seem so basic so far, don't they? Well, that's because we really haven't been that fundamentally sound, and the truth is that we're a very similar team to Indiana. Odds are whichever team does these basic things the best on Saturday is going to win.
And it doesn't get much more basic than tackling, does it?
I'm intending this more for the front seven, though it does apply to the secondary too. But my concern is that with the secondary having to worry about the Indiana passing attack there are going to be quite a few running lanes for Tevin Coleman, Stephen Houston and the Indiana offense. While Indiana doesn't run the ball as often as it passes, it does rush for 4.88 yards per carry, which is 30th in the nation. And like you, Indiana knows that the Illini have real trouble stopping the run.
So I'm expecting the Hoosiers to run a bit more than usual on Saturday.
And tackling those backs will be key. If they get to the second level and one of our linebackers isn't there to bring them down they are going to have A LOT of room to run in the secondary. That's not good for any of us.
4. Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers. This is probably going to be here every week for the rest of the year because it's basically my Moby Dick at this point. What I wouldn't give to see the Illini actually win a turnover battle. Yes, last week the defense forced a couple of key turnovers, but the problem was we turned the ball back over to Penn State just as many times.
Also, we're still looking for that first interception of the conference season, and Indiana may present us with that opportunity. The Hoosiers have thrown 10 interceptions this season, but it's not just a byproduct of throwing so often. Their interception rate of 2.77% isn't poor, but it only ranks 51st in the country. By comparison the Illini have an interception rate of 2.99%, which ranks 65th.
Of course, it doesn't have to be an interception, I'll take fumbles too. I'll take any damn turnover the Hoosiers want to give us, just as long as we don't give the ball right back.
Please, Illini, do this for me. Win the turnover battle for one Big Ten game. You just might win the actual game because of it.
Fornelli: I know a lot of us are feeling a little better after last week's game, and think that we have a legitimate shot at beating Indiana this week. I completely understand why. It's just, the part where we differ is the part where folks seem to think this Illini offense can hang with the Indiana offense. I'm not saying the Illini aren't going to put up points in this game, because they will. It's just I really don't see how the Illini defense is going to stop an Indiana offense that scores on everybody, and that includes 28 on Michigan State. Indiana 45-30 (6-2 on the season).
Primiano: Indiana has gone from surprise bowl game contender to spending yet another winter at home. The Illini have suffered a similar falling off once conference play started, but the world didn't lose its collective shit because they beat a terrible OOC opponent (I'm looking at you, Indiana State). I think the Illini manage to pull off the upset in this hilariously entertaining shootout. Illinois 42-35 (6-2 on the season).
Birkhead: This is going to be a crazy game. We have two offenses without much talent, but lead by great play callers. It's going to be wide open. This game could really swing either way, but since it's a road game I will have to go ahead and say Indiana will win. Indiana 47-42 (6-2 on the season).
Cassidy: Just when my hope slips to the point of incoherent predictions, the Illini try hard and nearly win. Illinois football, along with Tim Beckman under the headset, defy all logic and patterns. So here's what I'm taking into account as I predict the Indiana game. One, I hate Indiana, the Hoosiers, Hoosiers, Gene Hackman, the basketball team, the football team, their colors, their everything. Two, Indiana gave us our last conference win and that was 25 months ago, back when A.J. Jenkins carried grown men on his back. Three, the over/under is 76 damn points, which leads me to believe that not even Vegas knows how to approach this contest. Neither do I, so I might as well take Josh Ferguson and Illinois pulling it out under rivalry conditions. And I really think this one will come true. Illinois 35-27 (5-3 on the season).