Can Indiana keep Juice Williams in the pocket? – The Hoosiers had some problems controlling a dual-threat quarterback a week ago in Akron's Carlton Jackson, and they'll go up against a much better one this week in Illinois' Juice Williams.
What separates Williams from a lot of dual-threat quarterbacks is he a legitimate runner when he takes off with the ball. At 6'2" and 223 pounds he's as big as most running backs and won't shy away from would-be tacklers.
"Juice is an awful good football player," IU Coach Bill Lynch said. "I think compared to Kellen (Lewis), he is a bigger more physical guy. He can really run through tackles and get that extra yard. He also is not afraid to scramble around behind the line of scrimmage before he throws it."
Williams has a very strong arm and has been much improved in the accuracy department this year, but what makes him a defensive coordinator's nightmare is his ability to make big plays out of broken ones with his ability to scramble. If Indiana's defensive linemen can stay disciplined, keep him in the pocket, and make him beat IU in that fashion, IU's chances for a third straight win over the Illini go up exponentially.
Can Indiana go a fourth straight game without falling victim to the big play? – Eliminating the big play has been arguably the biggest priority for the Hoosier defensive coaches in the early going, and it's been a huge success in the first three games. Indiana hasn't given up a running play of 20 yards or more, and the pass defense has yielded only two pass plays of at least 30 yards (32 and 41-yard completions against Western Michigan).
The big play, meanwhile, is how the Illini raced to a big first-half lead against IU a year ago. Juice Williams' first four completions went for 32, 35, 45 and 53 yards, helping Ron Zook's team to a quick 22-7 lead by the end of the first quarter. In the final three quarters, though, Williams' longest completion went for just 11 yards, and Indiana mounted a comeback that was capped by Austin Starr's game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired.
Illinois' passing attack has relied much more on intermediate routes this year than it did a year ago, but you can count on Williams taking a few shots downfield after the success the Illini had with it a year ago. Freshman wideout Arrellious Benn should be of particular concern to the IU coaches thanks to his size, speed and strength. He hasn't caught a touchdown pass thus far, but was one of the most coveted wideouts in the '07 recruiting class and has big-play potential.
Will J. Leman single-handedly shut down the Hoosier tailbacks? - Illinois has limited its first three foes to just 71.3 yards rushing/game and 2.1 yards/carry, and the biggest reason is senior linebacker J Leman. The Big Ten's top tackler a year ago, Leman has picked up where he left off. He tallied 20 tackles in the season-opening loss to Missouri and is averaging a Big Ten-best 13.0 tackles/game.
When Marcus Thigpen and Demetrius McCray are trying to provide the Hoosier offense with the balance that Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada covets, Leman will be doing his best to take them out of the game. While Thigpen has tremendous speed and McCray is elusive, Leman can go sideline to sideline and doesn't miss many shots to bring down ball carriers.
"He is a really good player," Lynch said. "He has got some height to him, and he has gotten bigger through the years…He runs well, he is everywhere, he doesn't miss tackles, is very active, and animated."
Don't expect IU to abandon the run, though, just because of Leman's presence.
"You don't want to all of a sudden change a lot of things for one game," Lynch said. "Football is a game of repetitions, and the more reps that you get at anything, you're going to get better at it. If you change a whole lot week by week then all of a sudden it is like starting all over with your players. At some point too, it is like telling them what we were doing isn't very good, so we've got to try something different."
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Names to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
ILLINOIS: Three Days and Counting
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