For a game in which the defensive players on both teams are expected to be more spectators than contributors, the victory may very well go to the team that can muster up some kind of effort that has been sadly missing all season. One stop or turnover may be all that the offense of the Illinois Fighting Illini or the Indiana Hoosiers need to get a win.
Illinois and Indiana rank next to last and dead last in the Big Ten in total defense respectively. The Fighting Illini’s atrocious 461 average yards of offense allowed per game is only made to look a tad better by the putrid Hoosiers defense, which has given up an average of 507 yards a game to its opponents. The yardage has translated into points allowed as well — Illinois gives up 32 a game, and Indiana 37.
The facts are in stark contrast to how efficient both offenses have been. The Hoosiers are second in the Big Ten in total offense and scoring, averaging 511 yards and 42 points per contest so far. The Fighting Illini are averaging 402 and 29, putting them in middle of the pack in the conference. On paper, it looks like Indiana at home might simply outscore Illinois and send the Fighting Illini to their 19th-straight conference loss.
Illinois, however, has an ace up its sleeve. The Fighting Illini are statistically better than the Hoosiers in two important categories: third-down conversion percentage and time of possession. It’s only fair to mention that part of the reason why Indiana has the worst time of possession in the Big Ten is because they are an efficient quick-strike offense. However, if Illinois can play to its ball-control advantage on Saturday, they stand a chance to win.
In order to make that happen, the Fighting Illini must execute ball security and stay in front of the chains. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase must take what the Hoosiers defense gives him, and usually that’s quite a lot. Getting good gains on first and second downs will create the third-and-short situations that running back Josh Ferguson thrives in. Indiana is second to last in the conference in allowing third downs to be converted. Illinois must take advantage of this.
If Illinois can turn in its usual 29-point performance but cut down on the usual 32 it gives up by simply playing keep away from the Indiana offense, they might leave Bloomington with their first Big Ten victory since 2010.