ILLINOIS: Two Days and Counting

Will Indiana show more fight against Illinois than it did against Iowa? Can the Hoosier offense get untracked after scoring a combined 16 points in the last two games? continue our day-by-day preview of this weekend's match-up with "Two Big Concerns" about the Illinois game…

Will Indiana play as if there's anything to play for? – A lot of people outside the IU program are already writing off the 2008 season, and Saturday's trip to Champaign, Ill., will provide an answer to whether or not some players have done the same.

Illinois enters this game at only 3-3, but it is clearly one of the most talented offensive football teams Indiana will face this season. Coach Ron Zook's team ranks 28th nationally in rushing offense (190.3/game), 15th in passing offense (281.2/game) and 10th in total offense (471.5). Illini quarterback Juice Williams ranks fourth nationally with 353.7 yards of total offense per game, and wide receiver Arrelious Benn is working on a streak of three consecutive 100-yard games.

Indiana was blized in the second half by an Iowa offense that doesn't have nearly the playmakers or the explosiveness that Illinois does, and if the Hoosiers have the same approach Saturday as they did in the final minutes of the Iowa game, this contest has a chance to get ugly in a hurry. With that in mind, the first challenge for Coach Bill Lynch's squad is going to be to play with some passion and purpose when this game kicks off at 8 p.m.

Lynch said the staff has been trying to create a more competitive environment this week in practice to address those areas.

"We needed to work on ourselves some and make sure we were doing the little things right and eliminating some of the mistakes we've been making and competing again," Lynch said. "The best way to compete is to go against each other some. Quite often, you get into a lull of going just against scout team guys. We wanted to pick up the tempo in practice some."

Can Indiana find a way to score 30-plus points after back-to-back single-digit offensive efforts – Make no mistake – if Indiana is going to have a chance in Champaign it has going to have to score plenty of points. Illinois is averaging 33 points/game and has scored 42 or more three times, so Indiana is going to have to find a way to score 30 or more this weekend if it's going to have a chance.

Most likely, it will have to do that without the services of Kellen Lewis. Lewis hasn't been ruled out of Saturday night's match-up, but he watched practice from the sidelines again and remains in a protective boot due to his high ankle sprain. Lynch said the staff will make a decision on Lewis by Friday, but the odds of him playing would appear to be long. That means back-up Ben Chappell will not only have to play, but he'll have to play exceptionally well to give IU a chance.

Compounding Chappell's challenge is the fact IU's wideouts haven't been making tough catches or making things happen after the catch. Ray Fisher leads IU with 23 catches – including 17 in three Big Ten games – but he's averaging only 9.2 yards/reception and he's had his share of drops. IU's outside receivers – Andrew Means and Terrance Turner – have combined for only 15 catches and 132 yards in three Big Ten games, hardly the kind of numbers you'd like to see from your guys who are supposed to stretch the field. Damarlo Belcher had a big game against Michigan State (4 catches, 73 yards, plus drew three pass interference calls), but he caught only two balls against Minnesota and none against Iowa.

All are capable of making plays for an Indiana offense that should be a whole lot more productive than its been as of late. They'll have to get back to making big plays on Saturday, because Illinois offense is much too formidable to think anything less than 30 points is going to be enough.

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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