Illinois welcomes Western Kentucky to Memorial Stadium this Saturday. Here are some of the key matchups we are watching out for this week.
Illinois DTs Jamal Milan and Tymir Oliver vs. WKU Offensive Line
In Western Kentucky’s 31-17 win over Eastern Kentucky last week, WKU’s QB Mike White was sacked three times. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback is at his best standing in the pocket. He completed 20-of-31 passes for 264 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against the Colonels. Unlike Illini QB Chayce Crouch, White is not a threat to pull the ball down and run; however, he does a nice job of stepping up inside the pocket and shuffling his feet. If Illinois can create pressure through the middle and force White to run to either sidelines, he will be less effective and less accurate. The game depends on starting DTs Jamal Milan and Tymir Oliver wreaking havoc up the gut.
Illini duo of Mike and Mike vs. WKU linebackers
Mike Dudek is back catching touchdowns after missing the last two seasons. True freshman Mike Epstein had a monster game against Ball State last week, scoring two touchdowns on 86 yards from scrimmage (54 rushing yards, 32 receiving yards). Those two figure to play a big part in the Illini offense this season.
Freshman RB Mike Epstein committed to Illinois Football 2 years & 1 month ago pic.twitter.com/xtf7ffreF5— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) September 2, 2017
WKU gave up just 25 rushing yards, but allowed 320 yards passing against Eastern Kentucky. The Illini must try to get the ground game going with Epstein and Kendrick Foster in order to open up Mike Dudek, Malik Turner and company down the field.
Illinois QB Chayce Crouch vs. himself
At times against Ball State last week, Chayce Crouch struggled throwing the football. Crouch was 10-for-19 and tossed an untimely, ugly interception against the Cardinals with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter. From the small sample size in his Illini career, it is hard to imagine Crouch making the big play with his arm.
He needs to avoid the major mistake and take care of the football. If he can limit his turnovers and finish the game without throwing an interception, the Illini will win because they have superior talent across the board. He does not have to win the game by himself, but he certainly can lose it. Be smart. Take care of the ball.