Stop Pierre Thomas Early – He doesn't come to Bloomington with the same sort of name recognition as Brian Calhoun, but Illinois tailback Pierre Thomas still figures to be more than a handful for the Indiana defense.
Remember, this is the same Pierre Thomas who rushed for 185 yards on just 21 carries against Indiana a year ago in Champaign, averaging nearly nine yards per carry. Thomas has averaged only 12 carries/game in the Illinois' first five contests while he splits time with E.B. Halsey, but expect him to carry the ball 20 times against the Hoosiers, especially if he's enjoying success early. Illinois will also work the ball to both Thomas and Halsey out of the backfield in the passing game – Halsey leads the Illini by a large margin with 29 receptions for 158 yards (5.4 yards/catch) while Thomas ranks third with 12 catches for 130 yards. Expect the Illini to rely on the ground game and high percentage throws to the backs out of the backfield as it tries to control the clock and keep its defense off the field – after all, this is a defense that has surrendered 96 points and nearly 1,200 yards in its first two Big Ten games.
Another reason IU wants to slow down the Illini running game early is because it doesn't want to have to commit a safety to playing in the box to slow down Thomas. That's what IU had to do against Wisconsin, which left cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors in man coverage the majority of the time. Indiana still has confidence in its corners that they can play man coverage, but it doesn't want to have its defensive schemes dictated by an inability to stop the run. That's when the Illini could hit the Hoosiers with a big play in the passing game.
Tim Brasic's scrambling ability – Indiana wants to pressure Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic, but it doesn't necessarily want him stepping up in the pocket, seeing a lane, and taking off up field. The 6-2, 200-pound junior has run for 208 yards this season, including three runs of at least 25 yards. He's led the team in rushing twice, accounting for 77 yards on the ground in the season-opening, overtime win against Rutgers, and then amassing 56 yards on 11 carries in the 61-14 loss to Michigan State.
This marks the second time this season Indiana has gone against a dual-threat quarterback, and the defense was up to the task to first time around. Indiana didn't allow Central Michigan's Kent Smith to do any damage on the ground, limiting him to -14 yards rushing on eight carries while sacking him twice. Smith is currently the Chippewas' second-leading rusher, having run for 156 yards and four touchdowns in CMU's last four games.
Discipline will be a key whether the Hoosiers are rushing only the front four or bringing the zone blitz. They'll want to collapse the pocket around Brasic and keep him from turning broken plays into big gainers with his ability to scramble.
Putting Last Year Behind Him – Blake Powers is in a different situation than he was a year ago, but there's little doubt IU's sophomore quarterback remembers what happened a year ago in Champaign.
Matt LoVecchio was enjoying arguably his best game as a Hoosier, completing 15-of-17 passes for 209 yards. But the Hoosier quarterback was forced out of the game with a concussion in the third quarter and the Hoosiers leading, 22-14. Powers entered, and the tide turned. Powers was just 3-of-11 for 41 yards and two interceptions that afternoon, and the Illini mounted a fourth-quarter comeback and handed the Hoosiers a 26-22 setback.
That was Powers' first opportunity to see extended duty, and the outcome stung. There's little doubt that he'll be looking for some payback this weekend in Bloomington, but he can't try to do too much. Much like the Kentucky contest, this appears to be a game that IU can win with a big day from the running game and an efficient day from Powers and the passing attack.
If Powers tries to do too much and presses, that could lead to ill-advised throws and turnovers, which is the last thing Indiana wants against a defense that's been more than generous to opposing teams this fall, one that has created only three turnovers thus far.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
Three Days and Counting...
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