ILLINOIS: Three Days and Counting

Hoosier Nation continues its day-by-day preview of the Indiana (4-2/0-2) and Illinois (3-3/1-2) game this weekend in Champaign. Today, we examine three of the game's biggest match-ups...

ILL CB Terry Hawthorne vs. IU WRs Tandon Doss, Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner - Hawthorne is getting back into the mix after missing the season's first month with a broken foot. He played 10 snaps in Illinois' win over Penn State and then worked back into the cornerback rotation this past week against Michigan State. Now, there appears to be a possibility that the 6'0", 185-pound sophomore could be ready to return to the starting line-up against the Hoosiers. While his absence figures to make him a little rusty, he is a gifted athlete who was tabbed as a preseason first-team All-Big Ten corner by several publications. He was a Parade All-American out of East St. Louis (Ill.) H.S., tabbed as one of the top 60 players in the nation regardless of position. He earned five starts last season as a true freshman and was expected to anchor the Illini secondary this season. Now that he's back, he figures to play a big role in the success or failure of the Hoosier passing attack Saturday. He's someone who's more than capable of making a big play in the secondary, but his time away from the field could also make him susceptible against IU's talented stable of wide receivers.

ILL RB Mikel Leshoure vs. IND Front Seven on First Down – It's not difficult to figure out what Illinois wants to do against the Hoosiers. The Illini's run-oriented attack wants to hammer the Hoosier defense with a steady dose of Leshoure, who's averaging nearly 115 rushing yards/game this season. In doing so, the Illini hope to wear down the IU defense, chew up plenty of clock to keep Indiana's offense off the field and keep this contest from turning into an offensive shootout. With that in mind, expect to see Illinois Coach Ron Zook feed Leshoure early and often Saturday afternoon in Champaign. Indiana, meanwhile, has to show it's capable of stopping Leshoure on first down and forcing Illinois into some obvious passing situations. If it can do that, it can take advantage of Illinois freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and a less-than-formidable Illini passing attack. But if Indiana is unable to put Illinois in second-and-long situations and force Scheelhaase to do some damage through the air, it will be a long afternoon for the Hoosiers.

IU Red Zone Offense vs. ILL Red Zone Offense – A look at the Big Ten statistical leaders suggests that Illinois the league's No. 1 unit in the red zone, converting 18-of-19 trips into points. But the truth of the matter is that Zook's team hasn't been very good at all in the red zone. Of those 19 trips inside the opponents' 20, Illinois has come away with touchdowns only nine times. That makes them one of only two Big Ten teams to fail to convert at least 50 percent of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns (Penn State has only six TDs in 20 red zone trips). Indiana, by contrast, ranks seventh in red zone offense, but has scored touchdowns on better than 60 percent of their opportunities (19-of-31). Considering Indiana's high-powered offense and the Hoosiers' susceptible defense, it's a good bet that both teams will find themselves inside the opponents' 20-yard line on numerous occasions. If Indiana can limit Illinois field goal attempts, it will have a very good opportunity to spring an upset in Champaign.

Coming Up
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday – Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Key Match-Ups
On Thursday – Two Big Concerns
On Friday – One Bold Prediction Top Stories