Game Preview: Can Illinois Get Their First Big Ten Win Against Indiana?

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

“Man that’s one heck of a basketball game this Saturday. Oh wait, this is football? Yeah… not so much.”

That’s a conversation that’s probably been had several times this week in both Champaign and Bloomington as the Indiana Hoosiers travel to face the Illinois Fighting Illini, in a game to decide the cellar of the Big Ten Conference. Call me crazy but I actually think this contest will be rather entertaining. You have two defenses that are prone to give up the big play and two teams that will do darn near anything to get a win in what looks like a lost season for both.

EYE ON THE ENEMY:

Indiana looked like perhaps one of the teams this year that would take the biggest step in their conference. They obviously weren’t going to compete for a league championship but they could threat for a bowl game as they really got ready to shine for 2013. Problem is, sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson got hurt, in the second game of the year, and those hopes were quickly dashed. That doesn’t mean that Indiana will be a pushover though. They have an offense that can put up a lot of points. Behind head coach Kevin Wilson’s spread attack, both quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld have seen some success. Although they aren’t just a one dimensional attack. Running  back Stephen Houston had big games against both the Northwestern Wildcats and Ohio State Buckeyes. He’s a big back that’s hard to tackle. Add in one of the fastest tempos in the country and the Hoosiers can be hard to play against…. at least on offense.

KEYS FOR THE ILLINI:

- Run the ball early and often: The Illini have some talent in the backfield as both Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson can play. Problem is, they can barely get out of the backfield before being engulfed by the opposing defense and the last 4 games the Illini have been down so early, they have to throw the ball for much of the rest of the game. Take pressure off Nathan Scheelhaase from the start so he can work in the play action later on.

Attack Indiana’s D with the quick pass game: Keeping Scheelhaase in this game is your only chance to win. The best way to do that is letting him stay in the pocket. You say that will limit his explosive plays? As a wise man once said, not so fast my friend. Scheelhaase has shown he can be a good passer if given the chance. Play to his passing strengths by getting the ball out quickly. Let Ryan Lankford get in space against a very poor tackling team. Slants and quick hitches will do just that.

- Bring the heat on defense: Sure you hope defensive end Michael Buchanan can be a one man wreaking crew but that’s doubtful. I expect Indiana’s coaches to throw a back over to his side and chip him on nearly every play. The Hoosiers want to throw the ball vertically and to do that you’ll need time. One of the few bright spots on your D has been linebacker Jonathan Brown. Let him get after the quarterback so the Hoosiers signal callers can’t attack your weak secondary.

- Don’t let Indiana exploit your return units: Little guy Shane Wynn is one of the best return men in the country. He has tremendous acceleration and can change the game with one kickoff return. Last year, the Hoosiers were able to capitalize on a 99 yard kickoff return against Illinois. Don’t make the mistake then coach Ron Zook did. Kick it away from Wynn.

- Go for it on 4th down: You’ve got little to lose. Both teams are probably not going to a bowl game so why don’t you lay it all out there. Illini head coach Tim Beckman isn’t stupid. He knows it’s highly likely that he defense won’t hold up for the entire game and therefore you’ve got to be aggressive. Besides he is really struggling to convince the Illinois fan base he’s still the right man for the job. No one would hate you for leaving it all on the field.

PREDICTION:

Nobody will likely watch this game outside of the two teams fan bases  However, I bet we’ll see a lot of highlights shown after this one. Expect an “Arena like” shootout, in a game that won’t make the purists happy. I think the Indiana offense just does enough to hold off an Illini 4th quarter charge. Indiana 38 – lllini 28.

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