Illinois and Iowa will not square up until October, but Lovie Smith and his staff is already game-planning for Akrum Wadley. The dual-threat running back is going to challenge an Illinois defense that is only returning one starter in the front seven.
Wadley rushed for 1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns on 168 carries in 2016. While he did not dominate the Illini in last season’s matchup — 82 yards and one touchdown — Wadley is now a year old and facing a defensive line missing the NFL-caliber players it had a year ago, like Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips.
A between-the-tackle runner, if Wadley’s offensive line gets him a hole, he can run through them and break free. Once he is at the second level of the defense, you can see his explosiveness. He just bounces through the defense and any missed tackle is going to cost the Illini defense.
With a young, inexperienced defensive line, the Illini will not be able to afford any mistakes.
But Wadley does not just do it on the ground; he can catch balls out of the backfield, too. He caught 36 passes last year, mostly on dump-offs, and he scored three times. As mentioned before, Wadley is bouncy and can force the secondary to miss tackles. When catching the ball out of the backfield, Wadley is already through one layer of the defense.
Any chance for Illinois to pull off an upset over Iowa on the road will depend on the defense’s ability to contain Wadley.