The Illini will be in a very different type of matchup this week. After facing a team who ran the ball 60 times against them, they now face a Hilltoppers team that threw nearly 60 times (56, to be exact) in a decisive win over last year’s MAC champion Bowling Green.
It’s no secret that this will be a test for the Illinois defense. But on the other hand it will also be just as much of a test for the Illinois offense, who, up until the fourth quarter, seemed to sputter a bit and couldn’t sustain any long drives. If Western Kentucky is able to implement a similar aerial assault against the Illini, the offense will need to be far better than they were throughout the entire game to gain the edge.
Here’s a closer look at some of the main points of focus for Saturday’s matchup:
In the season opener, quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 46 of his 56 pass attempts. A combined 22 of those completions went to Taywan Taylor (12) and Jared Dangerfield (10). Doughty hit 7 other receivers for at least one completion, but Taylor and Dangerfield were his main targets.
Taylor finished with a team high 185 yards (avg. 15.4 yards per rec.) and Dangerfield had 92 yards. As a team, WKU averaged 12.4 yards per completion. But even more impressive was the efficient 10.16 yards per attempt. Put simply, any time the ball went in the air, the Hilltoppers were averaging a first down.
Don’t Sleep on It:
The passing attack of WKU got all the attention following their 56-31 win over Bowling Green, but keep an eye on RB Leon Allen. Allen, who fell just one yard short of the century mark on the ground, toted the rock 27 times for 99 yards and a touchdown. What makes Allen a threat, though, is his ability to get involved in the passing game as well.
Allen caught 6 passes for 53 yards, an average of 8.8 yards per catch, against Bowling Green. Illinois will have their hands full slowing down the passing attack of the ‘Toppers, but Allen is someone they definitely need to make sure is accounted for defensively.
Bend But Don’t Break:
Several defensive players and defensive coordinator Tim Banks have said the motto of the defense has been “bend but don’t break.” Well, WKU seems to have that same mindset. The Hilltoppers gave up a total of 465 yards to Bowling Green, 313 of which came through the air, however only one passing touchdown was recorded in the game.
Bowling Green did have success in the ground game, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and notching three of their four touchdowns that way. After a rough game 1 for the Illinois run game, they may want to push the run against Western Kentucky early and see if they can break down the coverages a bit to soften the defense up for the passing game.
Seize The Opportunity:
Throwing an interception can really get into a quarterback’s head. Last week, Brandon Doughty threw six touchdowns and NO interceptions (Lunt also had 4 TD and 0 INT). Illinois dropped at least one easy interception last weekend, but takeaways will play a huge role in this game. If Illinois is able to turn the tides of the game with a pick or two, they not only gain momentum, but likely gain a shorter field, which last week showed, helped the offense immensely.
Assignments will be key, and with such a heavy spread look, lots of one on one coverage will be a challenge, but if the corners can jump routes here and there, they have a chance to at least knock down passes or pick off passes. However, cheating off coverage can be costly if it doesn’t work out because WKU has proven they can go deep and score in a hurry.