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Illinois Football’s defensive line could have a big day against North Carolina

Here’s what you need to know about Illinois’ second opponent of the season.

NCAA Football: North Carolina vs Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After a wonderfully dominant performance by the Illinois Fighting Illini last week, we look ahead to a big week 2 matchup. The North Carolina Tar Heels will arrive in Champaign having dropped their season opener to the Georgia Bulldogs, 33-24. With hopes of returning to the ACC Championship this season, the Tar Heels can’t afford to take another loss at this point in the season. Here’s a quick look at what the Orange and Blue should expect from UNC.

The Offense

Total Scoring Offense Passing Offense Rushing Offense
24.0 PPG 156.0 YPG 159.0 YPG
T-76th 106th 69th

Mitch Trubisky is still learning the ropes after taking over for Marquise Williams this season. The junior quarterback is coming off a 24-for-40 performance against the Bulldogs, however none of those passes found the endzone. Trubisky's favorite target was Ryan Switzer, who grabbed 7 receptions for 52 yards on Saturday. While Switzer provides a North Carolina with a speedy target on the outside, their offense runs through tailback Elijah Hood. Hood ran 10 times for 72 yards in the Georgia Dome, and is touted as one of the better backs in the NCAA this year. The junior will also be a threat through the air, as he caught 6 passes for an additional 28 yards.

The Defense

Passing Defense Rushing Defense Points Allowed Per Game
185.0 YPG 289.0 YPG 33.0 PPG
57th 120th 98th

North Carolina's defense certainly had their hands full last week, having to face elite running back Nick Chubb and the potent Georgia offense. Chubb pretty much had his way with things, and the Bulldogs were able to tally nearly 290 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Such a dominant rushing attack gave the passing game some breathing room, too, as UNC gave up 185 yards through the air and allowed a touchdown.

Where They're Dangerous

While the Illini won't have to worry about Marquise Williams this year, Elijah Hood is a threat to score at anytime; look for the Tar Heels to push the tempo and target Hood repeatedly. Moreover, return man T.J. Logan could also be a valuable asset on special teams, so Illinois will need to be mindful of the situation(s) when opting to punt on fourth downs.

Where They're Vulnerable

As nice as it is to have a potent offense, the lack of possession time leaves the UNC defense on the field quite a bit. From the beginning of the season, there were questions surrounding the North Carolina defensive front and their ability to control the line of scrimmage; the unit as a whole still as a ton to prove. With Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Kendrick Foster showing their explosive abilities last week and Lovie Smith preaching about running the football, the Illini could control the clock with a persistent running attack Saturday night.

Additionally, check out what Tar Heel Blog recently wrote about the offensive line.

Quarterback Mitch Trubisky barely had any time in the pocket on most of his throws throughout the game. On pass plays without play-action, the pocket collapsed on Trubisky incredibly quickly, with each of his linemen equally at fault for lapses in protection. The Bulldogs did not send a lot of exotic blitzes at the Heels either, most cases were simply a man in red beating a guy in blue.

So, yeah, that’s great news for the Fighting Illini because they may have the best defensive line in the Big Ten. Provided Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips have good games, it could be a long night at Memorial Stadium for the Tar Heels.

The Verdict

Whatever happens during the game, the Tar Heels are going to try and promote a shootout. The Illinois defense will need to find a way to stop the opposing ground attack, while making sure Mitch Trubisky isn’t able to hook up with Ryan Switzer downfield. North Carolina may just be walking into a trap come Saturday if the Orange and Blue can ultimately find a way to control the line of scrimmage.