Talk about a tale of two weeks for the Illinois Fighting Illini. Last week, they annihilated one of the worst teams in college football in the FCS Charleston Southern Buccanners and now they welcome the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs to Champaign. Head coach Sonny Dykes leads the reigning WAC champs and their explosive offense will be a serious threat to the Illini. It’s a scary thought but Louisiana Tech could even be better. They were a popular upset pick in Week 1 against the Texas A&M Aggies until the game was postponed thanks to Hurricane Issac.
Offense: Louisiana Tech is led by senior quarterback Colby Cameron. He really took off in the 2nd half of last season and has yet to throw a pick this year. Freshman Tevin King is a 5’7 speedster who is averaging over 9 yards a carry so far. Another huge challenge for the Illini defense will be to slow down the pace of Louisiana Tech. They love to get up to the line and try to maximize the amount of plays in a game. Against the Houston Cougars, the Bulldogs ran over 10o plays! I wouldn’t be surprised to see Illini head coach Tim Beckham to use his timeouts on defense, especially in the 1st half. If you watched the Baylor Bears–Louisiana Monroe Warhawks game Friday night you know the cumulative effect a high tempo offense can have on your defense.
Meanwhile, the Illini have potential on offense but haven’t been able to show much with junior starter Nathan Sheelehouse continuously going down with injuries. He was knocked out of the Western Michigan Broncos game after starting off hot and then sat at the Arizona State Sun Devils. It looks like he’s ready to go for this one but if not sophomore Reilly O’Toole will get the call. Junior Ryan Lankford looks to be the go to guy for both quarterbacks so far this year. With AJ Jenkins onto the NFL the Fighting Illini needed another deep threat to step up. As for their running game, well so far it’s basically non existant. Sophomore Donovonn Young was expected to grab the job in the preseason but his fumble concerns remain and the speed of the game hasn’t “slowed down” for him just yet. ADVANTAGE: Louisiana Tech
Defense: Let’s be honest, this isn’t exactly a strength for either team. Louisiana Tech has gotten run rough shot by both Houston and the Rice Owls. Both teams are in a rebuilding phases and shouldn’t have gotten into shootouts with the Bulldogs. Louisiana Tech’s player to watch is sophomore corner Levander Liggins. Despite all the yards put up against his side in the first 2 games, he’s played well with 5 passes defended.
The Illini defense confuses the heck out of me. They have serious talent on the defense line with senior Michael Buchanan and junior Akeem Spence but have had a ton of communication problems leading to them giving up big plays. Junior linebacker Jonathan Brown continues to defend his teammates telling reporters, “We’ve got the best front seven in the country. The tape however doesn’t lie. The amount of missed tackles we’ve seen from Illini could fill up the whole column. If they don’t get back to the fundamentals it won’t matter how many guys will be eventually playing on Sundays, this defense will struggle. ADVANTAGE: Illini (by default)
Kicking Game: Louisiana Tech doesn’t like to kick field goals with their offense and it shows. Senior kicker Matt Nelson hasn’t even attempted a field goal though the first 2 games but last year he was pretty good under 50 yards (10 for 11). His career long is 47 yards. Anything more than that has been an issue throughout his career so if this game is close that could be the difference.
In Champaign, they’ve had a little bit of a kicking battle. Sophomore Nick Immekus has been dealing with an injury and in his place has been freshman Taylor Zalewski. Both have had few attempts and what was a relative strength the last couple of years with Derek Dimke is now a major unknown. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Prediction: Despite the ranked clashes tonight, this game could go down as one of the best of the day. Both teams are relatively close on paper and need this one to reach their season goals. Realistically, Louisiana Tech could run the table if they can grab this one and get past Texas A&M at home. The Illini have had two seasons in the last decade (2002, 2008) where they just fell short of bowl eligibility. When fans point to one major failure that’s not taking advantage of the non-conference portion of their schedule. With the Illini having to play a tough Big Ten schedule they really need this one. Saying all that, I’ll take Louisiana Tech in a close one, 34-31.