Blake Dietz: Illinois 28, Charlotte 17
It’s desperation time. If Illinois can’t win this game, I don’t see how they are given anything but slim chances to win any other. I don’t believe the defense is anything but average talent, however I do believe they have a great coordinator in Ryan Walters. I see the defense being at least fine against B1G teams, and should be able to contain Charlotte.
Matt Rejc: Illinois 18, Charlotte 7
Immediately after last week’s game, I was ready to predict a loss this week. I still think that outcome is very possible because the offense has some fundamental issues that need to be worked out. Right now, all that seems to work reliably is the rushing attack with Josh McCray. But that’s not going to be enough against most conference opponents, and it may not even be enough against non-P5 foes like Charlotte either. That said, I think the defense should carry the day and the offense will score just enough to keep the Illini on top.
Thumpasaurus: Illinois 34, Charlotte 20
I really am trying to evaluate this game as objectively as possible. Charlotte’s offense profiles more like UTSA’s than any team we’ve faced. They’ll be the most balanced offense we’ve faced, as they average nearly 200 rushing yards per game and 250 through the air. They’re slightly more run-oriented than UTSA but they’re very similar from a statistical perspective.
The big difference between Charlotte and UTSA is that while UTSA’s defense is middle-of-the-pack and therefore fairly good for C-USA, Charlotte has one of the worst defenses in college football. It’s not like their statistical profile has been skewed by playing great teams either; they’ve played a middling Duke offense, a Middle Tennessee offense producing roughly as much yardage as Illinois (in other words, a bad offense) and a mediocre run-heavy Georgia State offense (and an FCS team).
The Illini also have an advantage in special teams, where they’re above the best in the nation facing a middling-at-best ST unit. The best unit on the field is Illinois special teams, and the worst is Charlotte defense.
They are particularly vulnerable on the ground, surrendering nearly 250 yards of rushing to opponents who, again, are not very prolific at putting up yards. Only 6 FBS teams give up more rushing yardage per game than Charlotte.
The 49er defense is actually so weak against the run that Illinois should be able to control this game. Charlotte’s offense can probably move the ball on our defense, though recent adjustments have the Illini looking very sharp at preventing explosive plays, especially on third down. If Bielema is who he’s been so far, Josh McCray is about to have the best rushing performance by an Illini back in at least ten years. He’s made yardage by himself against substantially better defensive fronts, and the Illini OL should get a much-needed opportunity to feel what it’s like to nail all of their assignments. Maybe it could spark some confidence going forward.
The only way Illinois loses this one is if the offensive gameplan treats this like a scrimmage and gives our quarterbacks a lot of opportunities hoping to build confidence. Illinois should win this one, but Charlotte won’t go away easily so it’s not the time to get cute. If you want to start impressing people as Bret , have your first recruit to the program put up some eye-popping numbers on the ground. It might help to have some playaction passes ready in case Charlotte is able to slow us down with nine in the box, but if Illinois hasn’t used such plays by now, I’m assuming they just don’t exist in this playbook.
I originally had this score 37-30, but Illinois should be able to shorten the game with clock-eating ground-and-pound drives.
The best way to get out of a hole you’ve dug for yourself is to just start climbing. This is the first step.
Drew Pastorek: Illinois 24, Charlotte 16
If not now...WHEN? After back-to-back excruciating last-minute losses, Bret Bielema’s justification of his late-game decisions is puzzling at best and infuriating at worst. I don’t have much faith in the Fighting Illini offense with Brandon Peters remaining at QB, and I have even less faith in OC Tony Petersen’s abilities as a play caller. But one thing is pretty clear — Josh McCray is an absolute force, and he needs to be Illinois’ primary ballcarrier henceforth. Charlotte is allowing 234.2 rush yards per game, seventh-worst in FBS. The gameplan seems clear. There’s no reason not to expect a huge day on the ground. The defense has played well enough to win each of the last two games; it’s the offense’s turn to repay them. If Illinois doesn’t win Saturday we’re staring a 1-11 season squarely in the face.
Quentin Wetzel: Illinois 31, Charlotte 17
If I knew nothing but the score, I would have been happy with a 20-17 loss to Maryland. Same goes for losing 13-9 to Purdue. Obviously, both losses came in infuriating fashion, but if we can look past that, Illinois has looked like a real Big Ten team the past two weeks. And real Big Ten teams beat the likes of Charlotte. There are worse teams in the FBS, but not too many of them. If Illinois’ defense can hold up against Big Ten offenses, it should hold up against Charlotte too. The Illini offense will need to actually put some points on the board, but that has to happen at some point, right? ...right?
Mihir Chavan: Illinois 37, Charlotte 24
I am being a little cautious here. Charlotte is a good team, leading the C-USA east. They have two comeback 4th quarter wins against Duke and Middle Tennessee. They have a 4th year QB with a little bit of swagger. What they lack is a good run defense. Josh McCray levels a few guys to another 100+ yard and 2 TD game. Chase Brown, if he plays, does it as well. Jakari Norwood vultures a TD. Charlotte, however, comes back and scares Illinois, but a James McCourt field goal on a 4th and 2 from the 35 puts the game out of reach for the 49ers. There’s also the whole thing about a P5 team coming off an away loss playing at home to an inferior opponent.