Illini Hope To Excite Homecoming Crowd

The Fighting Illini celebrate 100 years of Homecoming by hosting Indiana Saturday in an important Big 10 contest for both teams. The Illini will be trying to regain momentum after a tough matchup at Michigan State, while Indiana wants to inch closer to a bowl bid. It may be a contest decided in the battle between the Illini defense and the Hoosier offense.

Illinois has great respect for the Indiana offense. Led by star quarterback Ben Chappell and a strong receiver corps, the Hoosiers are a threat to score on every possession. Ron Zook is impressed with Chappell.

"If you look at what he has accomplished, it is unbelievable. In my opinion, he's the best quarterback we have seen this year. He throws it all over the place, and he has two great receivers. He's hard to get to because he has such a quick release. A lot of times, you just can't get to him.

"With the timed routes, he has a very strong arm. We talked about him and the guy from Missouri (Blaine Gabbert) being the best guys at running their offense. He has only thrown three interceptions, he's got 16 touchdowns. He doesn't get rattled; he is hard to get to."

Indiana running back Darius Willis is out for the year due to injury, but his replacement Trea Burgess gained over 100 yards last week. When you expect pass, lanes open for the rushing game.

"You know what," Zook asks? "I don't think anyone really noticed that the running back was out. They still run the football. What they are going to try and do is spread you out, and what happens is that you get so caught up with either trying to cover or rush the passer, and all of a sudden, boom, they sneak a run in there. And a lot of times it's for big runs. I don't know that losing the running back has really affected their offense's output at all.

"Their quarterback is the real deal. You can say you are going to blitz him, and you can't get to him because he gets rid of the ball so fast. He is very strong and very accurate and it doesn't matter if he is throwing across the field or if he is throwing short. He's got a great touch. They've got a great plan. They're going to move the football, and they are going to get the yards."

Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning knows his improving defense is facing a major test.

"Indiana could come out and make us look like it's our first day of football. So we've got to put the hammer down as fast as we can as hard as we can."

Defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who will be trying hard to catch up with Chappell despite quick 2 and 3-step drops, knows IU's offense is good.

"I believe Indiana is a tough team. They rank 5th in the country in pass efficiency I believe. They're a great team. Their offense is somewhat similar to Missouri. The main thing is we've got to get to the quarterback more than anything."

Middle linebacker Martez Wilson will be asked to drop into pass coverage much like he did against Missouri. Hopefully he will have a better result this time.

"That's right. I think the Missouri game, it was my first game back. I was a little shaky. But this game I will be more prepared for a passing attack like Indiana. This game allows me to show my coverage skills, my ball skills as well. It's another game to show my improvement."

What must the Illini do to stop IU's potent attack?

"Show good coverage and get pressure on the quarterback as much as possible. Prevent the big play."

Safety Tavon Wilson will be defending against several outstanding receivers. He has great respect for the Hoosier offense.

"I think it's a pretty good offense. They average about 425 yards a game. They didn't put up too many points against Ohio State, but they put up a lot of yards.

"We just can't give up big plays. That will help us a lot. We didn't give up many big plays in the Missouri game. But we don't want to give up any plays period, so we'll have a chance to win."

Illini cornerback Terry Hawthorne is rounding back into shape at a good time to help provide depth to the defensive backfield. While he will need rest at times, having him available will help give cornerbacks Travon Bellamy and Justin Green rest as well.

"They are going to throw the football all over the park," Zook says. "All those guys are going to have to play, and what you want to be able to do is keep them fresh. We are playing Terry a little on both sides, so you can keep Travon and Justin fresh. The more guys you've got that can play, the better off you're going to be."

Zook reminds that stopping the IU attack falls on both the defense and offense. The defense must slow them down while the offense must keep the Hoosier offense off the field by sustaining drives and then scoring.

"You try to mix things up and hopefully they drop a few or he throws a couple bad balls. The biggest thing to do is keep the ball away from them as much as we can. I think that's the important thing.

"Offensively, we want to try and do the same things we have been doing, just get it in the end zone. The best way to stop that offense is our offense."

Most feel Illinois can move the ball on the ground against Indiana, but it will need to improve it's passing efficiency to keep IU's defense off balance. While the Hoosiers rank only 9th in the Big 10 in total defense, Illini players respect them.

"They're a pretty tough defense, especially their linebackers," Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase describes. "They play with a lot of toughness. They're not afraid to take on any blocker or tackle any running back. There isn't any glaring weakness. Their defensive backs all play pretty well, their defensive line's pretty solid. I think we'll be ready to take advantage of some things we see in their defense."

Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino describes IU's base defense.

"One thing that's a little bit different than what some people do, they play what we call a 30 front or a four down with the same personnel. It's similar to what our guys do, so we've seen it."

Zook agrees it has some characteristics in common with the Illini defense.

"Yeah, it is. They've got the bandit there, they don't call it the bandit, the rush guy, linebacker guy, outside guy. Very, very similar. Lots of similarities. (They) get in to some 3-4 looks, odd looks, rush him, drop him, so there's a lot of similarities. The coverage scheme is a little bit different than what we're doing, but front-wise they're doing about the same thing."

Coaches stressed all week the Illini offense must continue to work on itself and make improvements regardless of the opponent. The passing game is getting major attention. Tight end coach Chip Long, who hopes his tight ends can begin to contribute to the passing attack, has great respect for the IU defense.

"They do a good job on defense with their scheme, and they play extremely hard. We have a great challenge, and I expect our guys to respond. They have a good defense, so it should be exciting."

Many feel the Illini will need to outscore the Hoosiers to win. While the offense hopes to score frequently, receiver Jarred Fayson expects the Illini defense to be productive.

"I have a lot of faith in our defense to come out and play at a high level. We (offense) didn't play very well at all this last week, so we'll definitely step our game up and score some points. We can't leave plays on the field like we did last week. So we're gonna correct those things."

Receiver A.J. Jenkins wants to make up for last week.

"Watching the tape from Michigan State, I think we have a chip on our shoulders. Only scoring six points and then looking at the tape and seeing how many more plays and points we left out there. We've got to go out against Indiana and put up about 50 points. Literally."

Zook hopes to avoid a shootout but agrees it is possible.

"I hope it's not a shootout, but it very well may be. It's going to be important if it is, that our offense continues to do the things they've done. They've done a lot of great things, we've just got to get it in the end zone when we get down there."

The Illini know how important Homecoming is on campus. As one of the first colleges with a Homecoming, tradition is strong. Zook wants to reward returning alumni.

"I know our guys are looking forward to Homecoming. Homecoming is for the people who have already been here. Our job is to be a part of the show and put on the best show that we possibly can."

Scheelhaase wants returning alumni to be proud of their football team.

"It's all about tradition. You always get a lot of fans coming back for the whole weekend. We want to do our part in the Homecoming weekend. There's a lot of people who want to see how the football team is doing. I think there is a lot of promise in this season. I think this would be a great time for us to go out and prove it this game."

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