The Illinois Fighting Illini are off to a nice 2-0 start, but they now face their biggest challenge of the season as they travel to Seattle to take on the Washington Huskies. This week we get to do our Q&A with a fellow SB Nation site! Let's give a warm welcome to UW Dawg Pound's Anthony Cassino as he joins us to answer our questions.
1. The Huskies have started the Chris Peterson era off with two uninspiring wins against Hawaii and Eastern Washington. What are your expectations for the rest of the season?
Coming into the season, the talent and schedule sure looked like 9 to 11 wins, but now there's some doubt there. The coaching transition hasn't been nearly as smooth as most expected it to be, and the on-field results have been evidence of that. Having said that, there's too much talent on this roster to not expect at least a 9 win season.
2. Redshirt sophomore Cyler Miles got the starting nod at QB on Saturday. He didn't play in Week 1, but what's your opinion of his play thus far?
He did exactly what was asked of him against Eastern Washington: he managed the game between the 20's while UW's rushing attack dominated. He picked up first downs with his arms and legs when necessary, and when they got near the goal line he displayed his nose for the endzone with 3 rushing TD's. He has shown in the past that he can throw the ball down the field when called to do so, but he just hasn't been asked to do that yet. He's still knocking off some rust, but he looks like a quality power conference quarterback.
3. Senior defensive lineman Danny Shelton currently leads the nation in sacks (6). Is he a player on the NFL radar, or has his recent performance come as a surprise?
He's definitely on the NFL radar. He considered leaving for the pros after the end of last season, and was on several preseason All-American teams coming into the season as well as the watch list for the Bednarik Award. He's been a consistent performer for Washington for his entire career, and though his sack total comes as a bit of a surprise, the fact that he has been manhandling the offensive lines of inferior opponents isn't at all.
4. What kind of offense do the Huskies run? Also, which players should Illini fans look out for on that side of the ball.
It's still early in the Chris Petersen/Jonathan Smith era, but thus far it looks like the Huskies want to pound the ball. Their run/pass split through games one and two has been about 66% runs. They'll bring a bunch of different ball carriers with a stable of four running backs who have gotten carries (Lavon Coleman has become the #1 with 196 yards over the last two games), they get the receivers involved (they've run two reverses to John Ross in two games), Miles is an extremely athletic QB, and they'll even get linebacker Shaq Thompson involved for a series or two (3 carries for 66 yards and 1 TD last week).
The passing game hasn't really developed yet. They'll throw their share of quick passes to wide receivers behind the line of scrimmage, but no desire to stretch the field vertically has been displayed yet.
5. You've already covered Shelton, but are there any other defensive players we should keep an eye on?
You can watch Marcus Peters, one of the best corners in the country, as he's watching the game from the sideline serving a suspension. Outside linebacker/defensive end Hau'oli Kikaha is the country's returning sacks leader from 2013 when he had 13 -- he has 2 so far this year but has been asked to do more in the way of coverage than ever before in his career. Shaq Thompson at linebacker was named a preseason All-American by just about everybody.
6. What's your opinion of Illinois heading into the game? Which players on our side do you view as the biggest threat?
After what Vernon Adams did to the Huskies last week, any team that can throw the ball well is a huge concern for UW right now, and Illinois and Wes Lunt certainly fit that bill. If the Huskies don't figure some stuff out they could be in for a long afternoon, and and while I think that Adams is probably a better quarterback than Lunt, (that's no disrespect to Lunt either, if you haven't seen Adams play, check him out because he's a ridiculous college QB regardless of which subdivision you're talking about) having Peters out for the game certainly doesn't help things.
7. What's your prediction for Saturday's game?
We're probably looking at another high scoring affair. I'm not convinced that the Huskies can consistently stop the Illini passing attack, but I don't think that Illinois will be able to slow down the Washington offense either. The Huskies have been one of the best home teams in the nation over the past couple of seasons, so I have a tough time picking against them in Husky Stadium -- especially when they also have a talent advantage as is the case in this game. I think the Huskies will win by a couple of scores, maybe 10 points, but it'll be close throughout the game.
Thank you to Anthony for taking the time to answer our questions! Make sure to check out UW Dawg Pound for more coverage as we approach Saturday's game