Illinois (1-0, 0-0) vs. Cincinnati (1-0, 0-0)
Time: 11am Central
TV: ESPN2, Bob Wischusen, Rod Gilmore, Quint Kessenich
Line: Cincinnati -7.5
Forecast: 82 degrees, mostly sunny, 10% chance of rain
Enemy Territory: Down The Drive
THESE FOUR THINGS
1. Let's Open Up Some Damn Holes. As Matt went over in an excellent Fanpost, while Donovonn Young had a bad game against Southern Illinois, it wasn't exactly his fault. The offensive line wasn't giving him a whole bunch to work with as the Salukis defense pretty much sold out on the run all day. Hence the reason the Illini threw for 415 yards and rushed for 49.
Well, that needs to change against Cincinnati on Saturday. The Bearcats can stop the run without going to single coverage on every receiver, which means the offensive line will need to do a much better job of giving Illini running backs lanes to run through. When you take out the sacks from last week the Illini still only averaged 3.76 yards per rush last week, and that's just not good enough. Because if you can't run the ball eventually you aren't going to be able to move the ball through the air, either.
2. Get Off To A Fast Start. Things looked really good at the beginning of the Southern Illinois game. The Illini marched right down the field to open things and then stalled in the red zone, settling for a field goal. Then things fizzled a bit, as a shanked punt led to a Southern touchdown and a drop and a holding call led to a missed field goal for the Illini. As a result the Illini trailed 7-3 after the first quarter.
They can't afford to do that against Cincinnati. It's not even just a confidence issue -- though I certainly think that will play a role as well -- as much as it's a talent issue. Cincinnati is a much more talented team than Southern Illinois, and can beat you in multiple ways. If the Illini fall behind early it could snowball out of control.
3. Protect The Quarterback. Scheelhaase was sacked five times last week, which is a sight that's just become all too familiar around here. He only dropped back to pass 42 times, which means he was sacked 12% of the time. Against a Southern Illinois defensive line that's not as strong as Cincinnati's. Hopefully the return of Ted Karras to the line will improve the unit overall, but it's not as if Karras is a Hall-of Famer here. His presence alone will not fix all the line's problems.
Now, make no mistake, this is not all on the offensive line. Scheelhaase has to do a better job of getting rid of the ball himself. Some of last week's sacks were his fault as he held on to the ball. The Illini passing attack relies on pre-snap reads, and if the play isn't there after the ball is snapped, Nate either needs to make something happen with his feet or he needs to get out of the pocket and throw the ball away.
4. Better Communication In The Secondary. The big problem on defense last week were the amount of big plays given up. Southern Illinois completed five passes of greater than 20 yards last week, and three of greater than 30 yards. You know, if Ohio State does that to you, all right, you can understand. But Southern Illinois?
Part of this has to do with a young secondary that the Illini are working with. Mistakes are part of the territory in this situation, but hopefully things will improve going into the second game of the season. Of course, what could really help the secondary have a better day overall would be if the Illini could show a hint of a pass rush against the Bearcats.
We were worried about this pass rush going into the season and the fact it couldn't manage a single sack against Southern Illinois has done nothing to change that. If that doesn't change soon it won't matter who the Illini have in the secondary, you can only cover a receiver for so long.
Fornelli: There's certainly a part of me that thinks we're all giving Cincinnati way too much credit for what it did against a bad Purdue team, and there's another part of me that thinks we're overreacting to a scare against an FCS team last week. However, even when I try to look at this from a logical point of view, I just don't see the Illini emerging from this game with a win. I believe they'll keep it closer than most expect but just won't have enough in the end. Cincinnati 34-24 (1-0 on the season).
Primiano: I don't think the Illini embarrass themselves against the Bearcats, unlike Purdue last week. But I still don't see a win. Cincinnati 31-17 (1-0 on the season).
Birkhead: I would be thrilled if the Illini kept the game respectable, but I don't see a way that happens. The Illini defense gave up a lot of points against SIU, and looked exposed. Cincinnati 45-17 (1-0 on the season).
Cassidy: We needed a goal line stand to fend off the Salukis. The fucking Salukis. Now an actual FBS team comes after spending their previous Saturday pummeling all pride and honor out of Purdue. And at worst, Purdue is about the same caliber team as Illinois. Is there hope in this one? Little. Very little. Cincinnati 35-14 (1-0 on the season).