Returning to conference play after traveling to face Navy, the Hoosiers (2-5, 0-3) will travel to Champaign, Ill., to face Illinois (2-5, 0-3) on Saturday. These teams are quite familiar with each other—Saturday will mark the 70th time these two will meet. Indiana has held the upper hand in the series, holding a 45-22-2 record, but their last road win vs. Illinois came in 2006. This season has proved to be a difficult one for both teams, but think of it this way—someone has to win this game. Which coach will get their first career B1G win? A lot is on the line come Saturday, so let’s preview what we can see.
The Opponent: Illinois Fighting Illini
Homecoming for the orange and blue will be Saturday when they’ll face the Hoosiers. This season has been one that many Illinois fans have tried to forget. The team has lost 45-14, 35-7, and 45-0 to Arizona State, Penn State, and Michigan, respectively. They rank 114th in the nation in points scored and 88th in points allowed.
In their most recent game, which came against the Wolverines from University of Michigan, the team surrendered 353 rushing yards. Michigan’s quarterback and running back, Robinson and Rawls, respectively, each averaged over 10 yards per carry.
Their defense, as a whole, is mediocre to be frank. Opponents are averaging 157.1 yards per game on the ground and 219.3 in the air. Ashante Williams – a senior linebacker from Mayfield, Ohio is the leader for this team – but even he has struggled thus far, along with the rest of the squad. Illinois defense makes the Hoosiers’ look like the 49ers. Man, that’s nice of them!
On the other hand, their offense is superb! Just kidding. Their passing offense stands at 107th in the country, and has needed to split between two candidates. The sophomore Reilly O’Toole started last game vs. Michigan and averaged 2.5 yards per pass (he only completed 5). However, junior Nathan Scheelhasse will reportedly get the start Saturday—he’s been held out due to a concussion. Illinois’ rushing attack hasn’t posed a threat either—it ranks 98th nationally with just over 123 yards per game. Something will have to catch fire Saturday if they don’t want to have a disappointing Homecoming.
X-Factor- Nathan Scheelhasse
With a team like Illinois, one without a surplus of weapons, nothing is more essential than a good game from your quarterback. Scheelhasse will have to control the tempo of the game in addition to perform well on the field. He has three touchdowns and five interceptions on the season—not a statistic one wants to have on his/her resume.
Indiana’s pass defense has surrendered 221 yards per game, showing they’ve been exploited. Ryan Lankford and Josh Ferguson will have the focus of the Hoosiers’ cornerbacks—they’re the team’s leading receivers. Scheelhasse must take advantage of the vulnerable Indiana passing defense, take advantage of the duo of receivers he has, and, arguably most importantly, control the tempo. Indiana will try to play quickly; Scheelhasse should look to slow that tempo down. Every team needs a good quarterback. However, other teams have the talent to get away with their quarterback having an off-game. Illinois doesn’t fall into that category.
I’ll skip the part about Indiana coming so close to victory, yet failing to achieve it. We’re used to it by now. It’s still absurd, yet no longer surprising even the slightest bit.
On the bright side, Indiana has a genuine chance to win, and win big, come Saturday. If you’ve watched Illinois play, you’ll know they’re a small team with minimum talent. Their offense isn’t creative nor deceptive, not talented nor explosive. Indiana’s on the other hand, does have talent and speed. Shane Wynn, Cody Latimer, and Kofi Hughes have provided this team with quality depth at the receiver position.
The receivers can’t be questioned—we know who will start. The starting quarterback however is unknown. I haven’t had the chance to talk to anyone close to the starting quarterback controversy, but for the first time this season, I think Sudfeld will start. Coffman hasn’t played poorly, but the job hasn’t been done successfully. A change is needed—and hopefully it sparks something for the Hoosiers team and finally rack up a B1G win.
The defense for the crimson and cream has been extremely inconsistent and quite disappointing. They rank 98th in points allowed, and against Navy they gave up 257 yards on the ground. The rushing defense has been horrific, surrendering 226.3 yards per game! That’s more than the amount of passing yards per game they let up.
The Hoosier fans are hungry for a win. Getting close is good, for a game or two, but not for a season. There is no excuse for coming back without a win over Illinois this Saturday. Coach Wilson has to win this game; it’s that simple. What’s not simple is deciphering how they haven’t been winning these other games. However, I’m willing to put those games behind if they take down Illinois on their 102nd Homecoming.
X-Factor: Rush Defense
This has to be the third time I’ve chosen the rush defense for the Hoosiers as my x-factor. Watching the game Saturday nearly brought tears to my eyes. Maybe that’s too extreme, but it’s a serious problem that hasn’t been fixed. They seem to be outmuscled on the defensive line and outrun when the linebackers get involved.
Illinois’ running game stems from sophomore Donovonn Young. The strong, 6’0, 220-pound running back has racked up 276 yards on the season. That number has a chance to increase exponentially if Indiana’s run defense has been what we’ve seen all season. In a more optimistic sense, Indiana has a chance to turn this season around, improve that run defense, make a stand, and get coach Wilson his first B1G win as Indiana head coach. Only time will tell…
I put my faith in the Hoosiers last week. I lost last week. I put my faith in the Hoosiers against Northwestern. I lost that week. I put my faith in the Hoosiers against Ball State. I lost that week. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” What if they’ve fooled me three times?
I’m putting my last bit of hope in this Hoosiers team for simply one reason—the opponent. Indiana has been bad, Illinois has been hideous. Bad beats hideous. Indiana does have the talent, and that’s why this season has been frustrating. I think that talent will reach its peak Saturday. Hoosiers take down the Fighting Illini.