Dave and Drew Thurman (11:10 am)
Mascot: Fighting Illini
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (65,000)
Coach: Ron Zook (41-42; 5th year at Illinois, 18-28)
2007 Record: 9-4, lost Rose Bowl 49-17 to USC
2008 Record: 5-5 (3-3)
Base Offense: Ace (3 wide receivers)
Base Defense: 4-3
Lettermen: Returning - 44; Lost - 24
Returning Starters: Offense - 7; Defense - 6; Specialist - 1
Returning Stars: QB Juice Williams, CB Vontae Davis
Rober Ebert - Film Critc
George Will - Columnist and author
Gene Hackman - Actor
Lou Boudreu - Hall of Fame baseball shortstop
Neal Doughty - Founding member of REO Speedwagon
Jesse Jackson - Civil rights leader (expelled before graduation)
Red Grange - Charter member of Pro Football Hall of Fame
Dick Butkus (Pictured below) - Hall of Fame linebacker
After a Rose Bowl trip just a season ago, the Illini have struggled to put it all together this season. They have struggled to be consistent week in and week out, and this was very evident in last Saturday's lost to Western Michigan 23-17. Still though the Illini pose a much bigger threat than their 5-5 (3-3) record would show. Most of this comes because they are led by Juice Williams at quarterback. Williams defines what a dual-threat quarterback looks like, and has 2769 passing yards with 20 touchdowns along with 728 rushing yards and five touchdowns. For the past few seasons people have wanted Williams to show that he has a consistent arm to along with his running ability, and this season he is finally proving that with 276.9 passing yards a game. The only knock on him is that he like the Illini, is very turnover prone. Williams has 14 interceptions on the season, and in the two games he did not throw a pick the Illini won big.
Williams has several targets he likes to go to at the wideout position. His favorite wideout with out a doubt is sophomore sensation Arrelious Benn. He has an incredible 60 catches so far this season, which have led to 947 yards receiving with three touchdowns. The number of touchdown receptions might seem small in comaparison to his 60 catches, but that is because Williams has thrown touchdown passes to nine different receivers this season. Several of these young men will be important to watch on Saturday like Will Judson (401 yards, 2 TD), Jeff Cumberland (270 yards, 3 TD), and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (278 yards, 2 TD). All three of these targets have seen the ball in their hands a lot this season, but the Buckeyes might have to watch most for a wideout that goes under the radar. A.J. Jenkins only has eight receptions all season long, but he is averaging 29.9 yards per reception and has three touchdowns.
The rushing attack has been a real issue for the Illini all season. They lost Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL after last season, and replacing his 1681 yards and 17 touchdowns has been difficult. Daniel Dufrene has seen the most snaps at running back this season, and though he has 575 yards rushing this season, he has yet to find the endzone. A lot of this is becuase Dufrene is a speed runner rather than a power back, and becuase of that he now shares the backfield with two freshmen. Jason Ford (239 yards, 7 TD) and Mikel LeShoure (140 yards, 1 TD) will probably carry the load against the Buckeyes because unlike Dufrene they are both big physical runners. Neither has totally proven themselves yet, but with Juice Williams averaging 57.7 rushing yards per game there is still time.
Like a few positions on the offense, the Illini are really missing some key defensive players that left after last season. Lucky for this defense that their offensive unit has put up so many points because they are giving up 26.2 points a game with 351 total offensive yards per game. The Illini defense has been gashed in many ways, but nothing has hurt them more than through the air. They give up 210 yards a game passing, and have let opponents score 15 touchdowns through the air. On top of that, they have only been able to force five interceptions!
With all that said, they have been led by a very good linebacker. Brit Miller has stepped in nicely for J Lehmen at middle linebacker this season, and has 110 total tackles to go along with 15.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. He truely has done a little bit of everything for the Illini defense. The other three young men to keep your eye on are linebacker Martez Wilson (69 tackles, 5.5 TFL), cornerback Vontae Davis (64 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 FF), and defensive end David Lindquist (37 tackles, 4 sacks).
How it will go:
The weather in Champaign on Saturday looks pretty ugly! There will be a high of 38 degrees with rain or snow showers to go along with some extremely windy conditions (21 mph). This could actually play into the Buckeyes hands because they have the better running attack and defense. So expect when Ohio State has the ball that they will try to run, run, and run so more. Tressel has shown that he wants to come out and pound it up the middle until it is obviously not working any more. Beanie and Boom should have their fair share of carries in this game. Also watch for Pryor to have a big day running. Many times in these bad conditions broken plays can lead to the biggest gains of the game. Two years ago Tressel played a very conservative game in Champaign, and if the weather is as bad as it look it will be, expect it again.
When Illinois has the ball obviously watch Juice. The weather might totally neutralize him throwing down the field, but the Buckeyes will still have to worry about him thowing short passes and running with the ball. The Illini's lack of a power rushing game really might come back to haunt them in this game. They will have to find inventive ways to continually move the ball because it does not appear as if they will be able to run up the middle on the Buckeyes. Turnovers should also play a big part in this game. Illinois has killed themselves with turnovers this season, and unlike last year in Columbus, expect a couple.
So get ready for bad weather, prepare for lots of defense, and anticipate an ugly game. The Illini play the Buckeyes tough every year, and it looks like that might happen again this season. This one is a battle the entire way...
Father vs. Son Prediction Battle:
Dave has it: Ohio State 24 Illinois 17
Drew has it: Ohio State 20 Illinois 10