2013 Preview: Week 11: Illinois Fighting Illini

Written by Lloyd Ribner III (@Ribner3

 The Hoosiers hope to have Tim Beckman scratching his head when Illinois comes to town in Week 11.

The Hoosiers hope to have Tim Beckman scratching his head when Illinois comes to town in Week 11.

For the first time since non-conference play we are breaking down a game that should basically be a lock for the Hoosiers heading into the season. The Illini were an abomination last season, going winless in Big Ten play. Head Coach Tim Beckman is already on the hot seat in Champaign, which led to changes throughout the coaching staff during the offseason.

The history of this series is not quite as rosy for the Hoosiers however. These two programs have met on the gridiron 70 total times dating all the way back to 1899. However, of late the matchup has been a dead heat as the two teams have split the last ten meetings.

Week 11: Illinois Fighting Illini

Time & Date: TBA, Saturday, Nov. 9th  

Venue: Memorial Stadium (Bloomington, IN)

TV: TBA

Fighting Illini at a Glance:

Head Coach: Tim Beckman (2-10 (0-8), 1 year)

Last Season: 2-10 (0-8, 6th Big Ten Leaders)

Offensive Formation: Spread

Defensive Formation: 4-3

Returning Starters:

            Total: 12

            Offense: 8

            Defense: 4

            Specials: Punter

Returning Team Leaders:

            Passing: Nathan Scheelhaase (60.6%, 1361 Yds, 4 TD, 8 INT)

            Rushing: Donovonn Young (571 Yds, 4.4 Avg, 3 TD)

            Receiving: Ryan Lankford (37 Rec., 469 Yds, 12.7 Avg, 5 TD)

Preseason Magazine Predictions for Illinois:

Athlon: 4-8 (1-7), 6th Place Big Ten Leaders

Phil Steele: 6th Place Big Ten Leaders

Lindy’s: 6th Place Big Ten Leaders

Sporting News: 6th Place Big Ten Leaders

Why the Illini could win:

There are not many positive vibes coming out of the Illinois program, and the feeling towards them nationally is no different. However, there are a few reasons to say that the Illini might be able to come into Bloomington and pull of a mini upset.

First and foremost the offense should be better than last season as Tim Beckman brought in former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit as the new offensive coordinator. The cupboards are far from bare, lead by three-year starter Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. Scheelhaase has seen it all during his colligate career and should bring the senior leadership that a team needs when trying to dig themselves out of the trenches. Aiding him in the passing game will be six of the top seven pass catchers from last season returning in 2013. In addition there are three different rushers returning who gained over 300 yards in 2012, and leading rusher Donovonn Young had his biggest game of the year, last year against Indiana. The Texas native rushed for 124 yards on 21 carries on the day in a losing effort.

Why They Won’t Pull it Off:

While it was pretty difficult to devise reasons as to why the Illini would be able to come to Bloomington and score an upset, it was rather simple to come up with reasons as to why they will not be able to pull it off.

While Nathan Scheelhaase is potentially entering his fourth year as a starter for the Illini, the fact remains that his career has seen its share of potholes.  Last year was a major step back for him after tossing a combined 30 touchdown passes in his first two years combined; he threw just four in 2013. He was so bad at times that he was pulled in favor of Reilly O’Toole. While O’Toole slightly more efficient, it was not as if he lit the world on fire. Outside of his monster five-touchdown performance against Charleston Southern, the rising junior threw just one touchdown in comparison to four interceptions.

While there are both pass catchers and running backs returning in droves, the fact remains that none of them were overly impressive. Leading returning rusher Donovonn Young had just a singular 100-yard performance last year. Leading receiver Ryan Lankford returns, but he too only had one 100-yard game in 2012, and only caught five or more balls in three games last season.

Flipping to the other side of the ball, things do not get much better. There is no player returning with more than linebacker Jonathan Brown’s 2.5 sacks last year. In addition just for returning players tallied more than 40 tackles last season. Big plays may be an issue as well as just four total interceptions are returning from last year.

Final Analysis:

The Illini coming to town should mark the most winnable game in the Big Ten slate for Indiana in 2013. While they do have some talent in spots, the fact is that the Hoosiers should outclass them, especially on the offensive end.

I expect a high scoring game, but one that the Hoosiers will run away and hide in, scoring points early and often, forcing Illinois to take chances of their own offensively. The problem is that they don’t have the talent necessary to make the plays they will need to stay in the game.  In addition those Illini chances may very well lead to big plays for the Hoosiers defense.

If you want to see a Big Ten win for the Indiana Hoosiers this year, this is your game as it practically a must win if they want to go bowling at the end of the season.

Indiana's Chance of Winning: 90%