Illinois (2-0, 0-0) vs. Washington (1-0, 0-0)
Time: 5pm Central
TV: Big Ten Network, Eric Collins, J Leman, Evan Fitzgerald
Line: Washington -10
Forecast: 69 degrees, partly cloudy, 10% chance of rain
Enemy Territory: UW Dawg Pound
THESE FOUR THINGS
1. Another Quick Start. This was a key to last week's game, and while the Illini never trailed, it wasn't as quick of a start as I'd have liked. That said, it's hard to complain about the Illini taking a 21-0 lead. Now, I don't know if a 21-0 lead is a reasonable expectation this week -- it wasn't last week either -- but it's very important that the Illini don't fall behind early in this contest. The good news is that this is a big game for the team.
We know how Illinois has been treating the chance to play this game in Chicago, so odds are they're going to come out fired up. Odds are they'll be more fired up than a team that just flew in from Seattle.
But the start is still key because, even though the Illini are coming off a huge win and feel good about themselves, last year isn't totally in the rear view mirror. Should the Illini fall behind early some of those old feelings will start to creep in, and this Washington team is too good to play catch-up with.
2. We Are Still Looking For That Run Game. Through two games it hasn't really existed. The Illini rushed for 210 yards last week, but that number is misleading because a lot of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the game had essentially been decided and Cincinnati was just looking to get off the field and go home. And while a running game is always important, it's even more important against Washington.
The Huskies ran a lot of tempo offense against Boise State in their opener. A team that averaged 69 plays a game on offense in 2012 ran 85 plays against Boise. This was not by accident as part of Steve Sarkisian's plan this season was to go more up-tempo.
Now, even though we're 2-0, we're all well aware of the fact the defense hasn't exactly been stellar. It's also not deep. So an up-tempo attack could wreak havoc on the unit if the Illini aren't able to control the ball on offense. And to do that they're going to need to be able to move the ball on the ground.
I'm not saying the Illini should abandon the passing game or anything, as that's the strength of the offense, and at times the short passes work just as effectively as a good run game. I'm just saying that everything will work a lot better if Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson are able to find room to run.
3. Stop Bishop Sankey. The Illini pass defense is not great. In fact, its defensive pass efficiency of 138.21 is ranked last in the Big Ten and 84th in the country. So I have no doubt this is going to be a problem for the Illini on Saturday as they're dealing with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams.
But you can't forget about Bishop Sankey. The running back who rushed for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns last season and 161 yards and two touchdowns against Boise State. Now, I don't know that you can really stop Sankey, but if you can keep him in check it makes it a lot easier to slow down Washington's passing attack. But if you have to start bringing more defenders into the proverbial box to slow down Sankey then Keith Price and Washington's receivers will tear the Illini secondary a new one.
4. No Turnovers. There were two aspects of Illinois' win over Cincinnati that I really enjoyed. One was that they didn't allow a single sack. The other was that they didn't turn the ball over once. That needs to be the case again against this Washington team. The Huskies already have a talent and depth advantage on the Illini, to give them extra chances will just make things unfair.
So like last week, when under pressure, Nathan Scheelhaase will have to find a way to get out of the pocket and throw the ball away. Do not force anything that isn't there trying to make a play. Take what the Huskies defense is willing to give you and show the patience to keep taking it. This is a good Washington team the Illini will be facing, but it's by no means unbeatable.
Fornelli: I know that most people see the Illini losing this game, and I totally understand why. However, I think it's important to remember that this is a road game for the Huskies, even if it is considered a neutral site game. And, well, Washington has not been good on the road. In four seasons under Steve Sarkisian this team is 6-16 on the road, and it's 12-41 on the road in the last ten years. This team has also lost its first road game of the season every year since 2008. Now, that trend could come to an end on Saturday, but I'm thinking it won't. Illinois 31-27 (1-1 on the season).
Primiano: I want to believe so badly. Everything has been coming up Illini over the past month and it's been so much fun. But Washington has far too good of an offense for me to feel confident enough picking the upset. I think the Illini stay in the game, but ultimately fall to the Huskies. Washington 35-28 (1-1 on the season).
Birkhead: Illinois, why not? The Huskies being ranked this early doesn't mean much. They are also a bad road team. Illinois 31-27 (1-1 on the season).
Cassidy: Washington is ranked, which doesn't mean a whole lot in Week 3, but still. Illinois is coming off a victorious rout, but they are also only two weeks removed from a near loss to SIU. Analysis: who knows? I'm picking Illinois. Illinois 31-28 (1-1 on the season).