ILLINOIS: Three Days and Counting

What does Indiana (2-4/0-3) have to do to spring an upset this weekend in Champaign against Illinois (3-3/1-2)? HoosierNation.com looks at some of the key head-to-head battles in this game as we continue our day-by-day preview of this weekend's match-up with "Three Key Match-Ups" about the Illini…

IU QB Ben Chappell vs. IL Secondary – With Kellen Lewis sporting a boot at Tuesday's practice due to a high ankle sprain, it appears very probable that Chappell will be the man under center when the Hoosiers take the field Saturday night against the Illini. If that is in fact the case, Chappell's first career start will come against an Illini defense that has had its issues this season. Opposing quarterbacks are completing better than 60 percent of their throws against the Illini, averaging nearly 210 yards/outing and they've thrown for 10 touchdowns against only three interceptions. If Indiana is going to have success on Saturday night, Chappell is going to have that same sort of effort. The IU coaching staff won't be able to rely on its running game to move the chains and thus try to lessen the demands on Chappell. Chappell will have to show he's capable of taking command of the huddle, throwing the ball downfield, moving the chains, and putting points on the board. He'll also have to show he's capable of protecting the ball and not being turnover-prone. Chappell has completed 28-of-54 throws this season for 328 yards, but he's also thrown two interceptions and he had a fumble last week against Iowa. Those kind of mistakes will derail any hopes IU has of springing an upset in Champaign.

IU's return specialists vs. IL's return specialists – The best way to kick-start a struggling offense might be to get some points on the board from special teams, and Illinois' coverage units have been anything but stellar this year. Opponents are averaging 10.6 yards/punt return against Coach Ron Zook's team, and they're averaging 28.1 yards/kick return as well. The Illini have given up two kickoff returns for touchdowns as well, so opportunities will be there for Marcus Thigpen, Brandon Walker-Roby and Ray Fisher to make a game-changing play. For Thigpen, that means having his kick return team create an opportunity for him to hit a seam, get into the open field, and out-run the Illinois coverage unit. He's shown he's capable of hitting a home run on a return, but hasn't done it since he ran one back in Champaign two years ago in IU's 34-32 win. With Fisher, he needs to be willing to step up and field a punt and try to make a play. Indiana has attempted to return only five of opponents' 16 punts, as Fisher has often been quick to call a fair catch or allow the ball to be downed by the opponent. Against Illinois, Fisher needs to be more aggressive in trying to make something happen with a big special teams play. Illinois has its own capable return man as well in Arrellious Benn. Benn is averaging 9.8 yards/punt return and 15.7 on kick returns, but he's capable of producing his own game-changing play.

Geno Johnson, Will Patterson, Matt Mayberry and Austin Thomas vs. Illinois option run – Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has two 450-yard passing days this season and leads the Big Ten with 279.5 passing yards/game, but it's still his ability to run the ball that concerns opposing teams as much as anything. Williams is averaging 74.2 yards rushing/game, and he's gone over 100 yards against Eastern Illinois (174) and Michigan (121). The Illini will look to run the option on numerous occasions, and it will be up to the Hoosier linebackers and safeties to be disciplined in their assignments and then sound in their tackling. While Williams is an elusive runner, he's also atypical for a quarterback because he isn't easy to bring down. At 6-2 and 233 pounds he's bigger than most running backs and he's more than capable of breaking tackles. That's when he turns short gains into big ones, and Indiana's defense can't afford to allow those sort of things to happen Saturday.

What's 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


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