No Big Plays in the Passing Game – With quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams and tailback Pierre Thomas leading the way, the Illini will look to run the ball Saturday. It's been a recipe for success for each of IU's last three opponents, and Illinois' ability to spread defenses with four wide receiver sets and then utilize either the quarterback or tailback on the ground will present some big problems for IU's defensive coaches.
That's a big enough concern, so IU can ill-afford to also be hit over the top for some big strikes in the passing game as well. Williams has produced those kind of big plays already in his freshman campaign, with touchdown passes of 76, 69 and 69 yards this season. In fact, of his four touchdown passes this year, everyone has covered at least 31 yards. Williams is completing a Big Ten-worst 39.7 percent of his passes (31-of-78), but those completions have gone for an average of 17.7 yards/completion.
Following IU's 52-17 loss to Wisconsin, IU Coach Terry Hoeppner said he was most disappointed in the play of the secondary, which allowed Wisconsin QB John Stocco to complete 15-of-17 throws for 304 yards and three scores. Breakdowns in coverage played a big part in Stocco's big day, and those issues must be sorted out if Indiana is going to end its 10-game losing streak in Champaign.
Rediscover James Hardy - Indiana has plenty of depth and talent at wide receiver, but somehow, someway, it needs to figure out a way to get James Hardy more involved in the passing game.
A preseason All-Big Ten pick at the start of the season, Hardy's sophomore season has been pedestrian at best. After catching 61 passes as a redshirt freshman and leading the Hoosiers in the category by a wide margin, Hardy ranks seventh on the IU team in receptions with only eight for 120 yards and one touchdown. His two-game suspension played a role in his numbers, but Indiana can't expect to be productive offensively if he's catching one pass for eight yards like he did against Wisconsin.
Indiana doesn't want to lean on him like they did a year ago, but it needs to get him the ball more frequently. That will fall on quarterback Kellen Lewis, who appears to be the coaching staff's choice under center for the foreseeable future. But some of the burden also falls on Hardy, who hasn't exactly been standing wide open downfield while Lewis looks to other options.
Limit The Missed Tackles- At Tuesday's weekly press conference, IU Coach Terry Hoeppner said ideally you'd like to see your team have its season-high in missed tackles in week one, and then steadily improve in the category in each subsequent week. With limited opportunities for "live" tackling during fall camp, the theory is missed tackles should be on a steady decline once games begin.
That hasn't necessarily been the case for this year's IU team. Missed tackles have played a big part in losses to Southern Illinois and Wisconsin, and Connecticut's only offensive touchdown came when IU couldn't wrap up Huskie running back who then broke free for a 44-yard touchdown run. As a result, the Hoosiers have gone to more live tackling in practice during the last two weeks to try to address the issue.
Missed tackles against the Illini would likely prove extremely costly. Juice Williams might be a quarterback, but he's 6-2 and 220 pounds and possesses excellent speed, and he's someone who won't shy away from contact. If he breaks free from the initial tackler, he's capable of going the distance. Illinois' spread formation, meanwhile, will produce plenty of one-on-one tackling assignments for IU defenders in both the running game and the passing game, and it's imperative IU wrap those ball carriers up.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
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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