An All Orange Affair in Champaign

A pillow fight may be an apt description of a game matching two teams who have dropped 21 consecutive games against Division I foes. A true Battle of the Titans is upon us. Or not. Brad Leshyn provides a preview of the Illini's upcoming game against Syracuse.

A pillow fight may be an apt description of a game matching two teams who have dropped 21 consecutive games against Division I foes. A true Battle of the Titans is upon us. Or not. Either way, something's gotta give, and after last week's debacle in the swamps of New Jersey, the smart money may not be on the home team, despite the fact the Illini have won 9 of 10 in this series. Syracuse fell 20-13 in double overtime to a talented Iowa team that was without QB Drew Tate. While Tate is the straw that stirs Iowa's drink, it was still a nice showing by the Orange who have shown some fight, especially on defense, early on. Speaking of fight, the Illini didn't put up much of one last week as they were blanked 33-0 by the State University of New Jersey. The sad part is that score was not a true indication of how dominant Rutgers was. Ron Zook needs to regroup this team and fast. A strong showing - and a win - is a must this week as Iowa, likely with a healthy Tate, looms in less than a fortnight. It's high time for this team to sack up and show what it's made of. Their season may depend on it.

When the Orange have the ball
Offense hasn't exactly been the Orange's forte of late, as their 23 cumulative points thus far has shown. For example, last week they ran a total of nine overtime plays from the Iowa two-yard line and came away with a whopping three points. Their final possession included seven plays from the two where they came away with bubkes. If any offense is tailor made to boost the Illini defense's confidence, this is it.

Quarterback Perry Patterson, a three year starter, leads the ‘charge' and last week he moved up to fifth all-time in passing attempts by a Syracuse QB. He has thrown for 255 yards and two TDs so far and, most importantly, no picks. Tim Lane was his favorite target last week with seven receptions and his 10 overall are second best in the Big East. Taj Smith, Rice Moss, and true freshman Mike Williams round out an unspectacular receiving corps. When they want to run the football, Curtis Brinkley gets the call. Brinkley set career highs with 15 carries and 68 yards a week ago and heads into his third career start with 117 yards on the year.

For a unit with only a meager amount of positives, they have shown good ball security thus far, having committed one measly turnover (a fumble.) They also show good overall team discipline as they have second fewest penalty yards per game (31.5) in the Big East. Last fall they were the least penalized team in the league. Of course, Ron Turner's teams tended to be fairly penalty-free as well and look where that got them...

When the Illini have the ball
Head coach Greg Robinson is a defensive guy and has had plenty of success along the way. He won two Super Bowl rings as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and headed a defense at Texas in 2004 that was 23rd in the nation in total defense and helped, along with some guy named Vince Young, propel the Longhorns to an 11-1 record. His 2006 defense, significantly less talented than his Texas unit, allows 357 total yards per game and a hefty 4.6 yards per rush.

The marquee player is LB Kelvin Smith, a Butkus Award candidate, who has amassed 29 tackles through two games. He has also started 36 consecutive games, tops among position players (punter Brendan Carney has ‘started' 37.) Among his linebacking mates is Jerry Mackey. If the last name rings a bell, it should. His great uncle is John Mackey who is arguably the greatest tight end in pro football history (although most Bears fans will disagree.) Mackey recorded his first career interception (one of four by the Orange) against the Hawkeyes and has registered 13 tackles early on. Jameel McClain, now at DE after switching from LB, and his three sacks will give Akim Millington all he can handle coming off the edge.

The secondary is led by former QB Joe Fields, who has 14 tackles and one pass defended from his free safety spot, and CB Terrell Lemon, who was the big-play man a week ago, picking off the first two passes of his career. Strong safety Dowayne Davis also has 14 stops on the year after racking up a team high 77 a year ago.

Fun Facts
It is a well known fact among college football afficionados that the number 44 and Syracuse are synonymous. After all, it's only been donned by such greats as Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, and Jim Brown. The not-so-immortal Rob Konrad, too. Well, the school, as well as the community, has taken that number to new heights. The university's zip code, formerly 13210, was changed to 13244 recently, and in 1988, when the school changed phone systems, the exchange went from 423 to 443. Also, a popular student hangout on campus is dubbed "44's".

Ever wonder where your favorite sportscaster spent his college years? There's a good chance it was at Syracuse. Among it's alums are Bob Costas, Mike Tirico, Sean McDonough, Dick Stockton, and Marv Albert.

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