Illinois (2-1, 0-0) vs. Miami (Ohio) (0-3, 0-0)
Time: 11am Central
TV: Big Ten Network, Eric Collins, Chuck Long, J Leman
Line: Illinois -25
Forecast: 76 degrees, partly cloudy, winds south at 13mph
Enemy Territory: Hustle Belt
THESE FOUR THINGS
1. Start Fast On Offense. Miami (Ohio) is not a good football team. In fact, the Redhawks have been downright terrible through three games. There's a reason the Illini are 25-point favorites. The last time the Illini were a 25-point favorite against an FBS school was in 2008 against Louisiana-Lafayette, a game the Illini won 20-17. You know, so they didn't quite cover. Still, this Miami team is not as good as that team was. The Redhawks offense currently ranks last in the nation in yards per game and yards per play and it's near the bottom in rushing yards, passing efficiency and points per game. It's a very bad football team.
And that's why it's even more important to get off to a fast start in this contest. This Redhawks team has no confidence right now, and if you score early they're not going to gain any.
It'd be nice for our own confidence as well. The Illini offense did not look good against Washington the last we was it, and they've had the last two weeks to think about it. Opening the game with a touchdown drive would make everybody feel a lot better about everything.
2. Take Care Of The Football. Last week Miami was able to hang with Cincinnati, but it wasn't because Miami was playing particularly well. The score was still 0-0 with six minutes left before Cincinnati finally broke through with a couple touchdowns to win 14-0.
So how did a Miami team that was outgained 369 yards to 87 yards hang around for so long in that game?
Cincinnati turned the ball over three times. It also had seven penalties that helped kill other drives.
And considering what we saw the Illini do to Cincinnati, it's logical to believe that as long as the Illini don't make mistakes and take care of the football, they're going to be able move the ball and put points on the board against this Redhawks team. I already told you about the offense, but this Miami defense is one of the worst in the country too. It's not as bad as the offense, but, well, that's like saying you're the second smartest person at Indiana.
3. Do Your Job On Defense. As Brian Vance told us in our Q&A with Hustle Belt, Miami's offense has struggled quite a bit this year as it tried to adopt more of a read-option offense. Well, we may be 2-1 on the season, but our defense has struggled quite a bit itself. This game would be a good opportunity for the defense to get its act together.
We won't need anybody to be a hero against this offense as the Redhawks just don't provide a legitimate threat with the football. All the Illini need to do is know their assignments and carry them out. Sure, we don't have much of a pass rush on the defensive line, but against a team like this it's probably more important that the line maintains gap control and that the linebackers worry about the read-option. Again, know your assignment and don't vary from it.
As far as the secondary is concerned, while the unit can't take anything for granted, there isn't a lot to worry about in this contest. Miami's leading receiver is Dawan Scott and he has 91 yards through three games.
4. Get The Run Game Healthy. The ground game has not been good through the first three games of the season. At this point the Illini are averaging 131.67 yards per game and only 3.76 yards per carry. Both of those numbers rank 11th in the Big Ten and they're respectively ranked 93rd and 89th nationally.
Well, this Redhawks defense is far and away the worst rush defense we'll have faced this season.
The Redhawks are allowing 254.67 yards per game, and it's not just because opponents are running a ton to kill the clock after building big leads. The 5.16 yards per carry they're allowing is ranked 110th in the country, and Cincinnati was the only team to not rush for 200 yards against this defense. Instead it finished at 198 while Kentucky ran for 262 and Marshall rushed for 304.
In other words, if the offensive line can't open holes for Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson to exploit in this game, we should be very worried about the rushing game going into Big Ten play. Because we won't be facing a run defense as bad as this one the rest of the way.
Fornelli: I don't have a lot of doubt in my mind that the Illini are going to win this game and that we're going to be 3-1 going into Big Ten play. Where I do have questions is in whether or not our defense is strong enough to keep Miami from finally figuring out a way to move the ball. I mean, if Southern Illinois could do it, I think the Redhawks can. So while I'm predicting the Illini are going to win, I don't think there's a cover in our future. Illinois 41-17 (1-2 on the season).
Primiano: Pain. Illinois 42-7 (2-1 on the season).
Birkhead: Miami is abysmal on offense. They have only scored 21 points through three games and were shut out by Cincinnati last week; a team the Illini scored 45 points on. This should be a solid win. Getting three wins in non-conference play seemed like a pipe dream only a month ago, but here we are. Illinois 35-10 (1-2 on the season).
Cassidy: The spread shocked me. Believe me, I'm loving this offensive resurgence as much as anybody, but I've been burned by Illinois too many times. Sadly and cynically, I'll be a skeptic as long as I live. They still win, though. Illinois 28-14 (1-2 on the season).