With Illini football finally upon us once again, let’s take a look at what Bret Bielema’s crew needs to do to earn a Week 0 win over the Wyoming Cowboys. This one should be pretty straightforward, so let’s dive right into it.
I see three main keys to an Illini victory on Saturday, starting with...
Control the Ball
This matchup plays right into Bret Bielema’s strong suit. If Illinois can impose a punishing ground game on Wyoming and win time of possession by an 8-10 minute margin, then a victory seems very likely.
Obviously, winning time of possession is helpful in any game, but it’s especially important in this one because the Illini shouldn’t need to take many risks to win. If the Illini can execute their rushing attack at a high level and wear down Wyoming’s defense, then holes will begin to open for Chase Brown and Josh McCray to start breaking off long runs.
There’s a few different advantages to employing a conservative style of play this week. It can help the Illini offense to ease into Barry Lunney’s style of play, while also keeping the more creative plays under wraps until the following week against the Indiana Hoosiers.
If the Illini find themselves trailing at some point, then of course it’ll be time to start airing the ball out and opening up the playbook. One way that might happen is if they can’t...
Limit the Turnovers
Illinois has the talent and experience advantage in this game, and they need to leverage both if they’re going to make this a fairly comfortable win. But turning the ball over through fumbles, interceptions, or special teams miscues could give Wyoming short fields and easy opportunities to score. By taking care of the ball and eating up the clock, the Illini should be able to control the game from start to finish.
Think about how Illinois punished the Nebraska Cornhuskers during last year’s Week 0 game by consistently scoring points off of their turnovers, and that’s what we need to avoid here.
Calvin Hart Touchdown pic.twitter.com/jS1BmlRnwg— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) August 28, 2021
Blake Hayes— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) August 28, 2021
Illinois Football takes the lead 2-0 pic.twitter.com/qJ4MEsUHgf
Turnovers are the great equalizer in college football. A -3 turnover margin can be the difference between a 42-0 victory and a 24-21 loss. But one of the best ways to turn the tables and generate turnovers is to...
Pressure the Quarterback
Whether the Cowboys start Andrew Peasley or Evan Svoboda, the Illini can limit Wyoming’s offense by getting to the quarterback early and often. And the defensive talent is there to get it done.
Johnny Newton, Keith Randolph Jr., Tarique Barnes, Calvin Hart Jr., and several others have demonstrated the ability to get into the backfield and disrupt an opponent’s offensive flow. By doing that, they’ll make the inexperienced Wyoming quarterback uncomfortable and force him to make mistakes. Those mistakes at the quarterback position often turn into sacks, long-yardage situations, and turnovers.
Getting pressure on the quarterback usually involves more than just a defensive lineman beating an offensive lineman or tight end one-on-one. It also requires the secondary to play lockdown coverage and interior defensive linemen to plug gaps, take up space, and attract double-teams.
Just like on offense, if the Illini defense can execute their fundamentals while minimizing errors, then I feel good about Illinois’ chances. Bonus points if the defense can primarily stay in their base schemes and limit the number of looks that Indiana can practice against.
This is a game that Illinois should win, and it shouldn’t require much creativity on the part of the coaching staff. A disciplined performance on offense and aggressive play on defense will likely let the Illini jump out to 1-0 on the 2022 season.