The Illinois offense packs a lot of firepower. What sort of defensive looks might Illinois see and how has the defense played this year?
Texas State plays a 4-2-5 where one of the safeties plays as an optional linebacker. The new defensive coordinator who came from Arkansas State has also run a 3-3-5 type defense. The jury is still out on turnovers. They only have one interception on the year, but they recovered two of their three forced fumbles. It's kind of mixed since it's still early, but I think this will be a good watermark for the young DBs and the defensive line to see how they do against Illinois because of how much they throw it.
The offensive coordinator at Texas State is former Illinois OC Mike Schultz. What can Illinois fans expect offensively from the Bobcats and who should they watch out for?
Offensively, it hasn't changed much. The big changes for Navy were with the defense. They did a good job of keeping that secret. Coach Franchione said some of those looks won't be used the rest of the year because nobody really runs a triple option. It's a spread offense with an emphasis on the option zone read. It starts with Tyler Jones. He can hurt you with his arm or with his feet.
The Navy game was a tough start, but they hung in there with them the rest of the game.
Texas State lost Michael Orakpo for the season to a knee injury already this season. What kind of impact will that have at the linebacker position and to the defense in general?
It was a devastating blow losing Michael Orakpo (Brother of Brian Orakpo). Some people would say he was the best defensive player. Some people say that Texas State had the best linebacking corps in the Sun Belt Conference. He was multi-dimensional. He had good speed and the ability to get out in the flat and play outside while also using strength on the edge to cause havoc in the backfield. He was one of the key leaders of the defense along with David Mayo. Unfortunately it was a chop block to the knee that caused a torn ACL/MCL.
You can't replace a Michael Orakpo or his leadership and ability, but if there's any silver lining to it, it happened to the deepest unit. The defensive line lost four starters and the secondary lost three seniors last year. The linebacking corps has the "next up" mentality. Stephen Smith, a sophomore, has taken a lot of plays and is one of the first names up to replace Orakpo as a starter.
Illinois has struggled defending the run this year, especially against Washington last weekend. Do you think that will be a point of emphasis in the Bobcats' offensive game plan?
Robert Lowe is having one heck of a season. He's averaging over 150 all-purpose yards per game. He along with Tyler Jones make that offense go. He's not the biggest back, but it's incredible how he racks up yards after contact. He carries close to 200 pounds on his 5'9 frame. He's very solid and is like a pinball. His speed is deceptive. When he touches the ball out of the backfield, he's averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
I think the Texas State offense will definitely key in on the run. The bookend tackles for Texas State come in at 314 and 325 pounds and the whole line is over 300 lbs. There are a lot of young guys like sophomores and juniors with a lot of starts under their belts. I'd be surprised if you didn't see a heavy dose of the run.
How will the Bobcats respond going to a road game against a Big Ten opponent in an environment outside of their normal comfort zone?
Last year as a whole, they started 6-3 and finished 2-4. Part of that was Tyler Jones going down. They won't see another environment like Illinois all year. They did struggle on the road a bit last year. They won't see size like Illinois has all year. It was disappointing to lose in front of the largest crowd in Texas State history last week. Coach is hoping that they embrace the hostile atmosphere and rally around that. If they come out flat like they did against Navy, it could be a walk in the park for Illinois.