ILLINOIS: Five Days and Counting

A couple of teams in desperate need of a win square off Saturday night when Indiana (3-3/0-2) tangles with Illinois (1-4/0-3). Hoosier Nation begins its day-by-day preview of the match-up with Five Days and Counting...

23.3 - percent of the voters in an on-going Chicago Tribune on-line poll that think Illinois should start Juice Williams at quarterback this weekend. Saturday's starter, Eddie McGee, fared even worse, getting just 4% of the votes. The overwhelming choice among the voters was option C – ‘doesn't matter, season is over.' It's been a stunning collapse for Williams, Illinois' all-time leader in total offense who was benched last weekend after 38 straight starts. Williams' 324.3 total yards/game led the Big Ten in total offense a year ago by nearly 80 yards. This season, he's not even producing half of that total. Williams is averaging 125.6 yards/game through the air and 37.0 yards/game rushing and has only three touchdowns.

17 - sacks surrendered by Illinois this season, ranking Coach Ron Zook's team 113th out of 120 in Division I-A football. The problems have been particularly apparent during the Illini's 0-3 Big Ten start, as Illini quarterbacks have been sacked 12 times. In the Michigan State game alone, McGee and Williams combined to be sacked six times and there were six additional quarterback hurries. That falls on an Illini offensive line that on paper looks better than it's performed. Right guard Jon Asamoah, center Eric Block and left tackle Jeff Allen all started at least nine games a year ago, while right tackle Ryan Palmer had three starts in '08.

17.0 – how many points the Illini are averaging per game this season, ranking Zook's team 111th nationally. That's a noticeable drop-off from a year ago, when Illinois ranked 40th nationally with 28.7 points/game. Despite last year's cumulative numbers, Illinois' issues with putting points on the board goes back to the middle of last season. In the last five games of the '08 season Illinois scored more than 20 points only once (27 vs. Iowa) and its had 17 or fewer in four of its first five games this season (45 vs. Illinois State is the lone exception). Of course, that's probably a little solace to Indiana, since the Illini scored 55 against IU a year ago and Virginia was one of the nation's most anemic offenses statistically last week before it scored 47 on the Hoosiers.

35.2 – receiving yards per game for Illinois wide receiver Arrellious Benn. A preseason All-Big Ten pick, Benn's productivity has been in a nosedive in '09. He's caught only 13 passes through the first five games for 176 yards and has yet to get in the end zone. A season ago Benn caught 67 passes for 1,055 yards and had five 100-yard receiving games, including a 7-catch, 130-yard, one-touchdown performance in the 55-13 win over Indiana. Benn is a 6'2" and 220 pounder with sub-4.5 speed in the 40. He's projected to be a first or second-round NFL Draft pick when he does declare, potentially as early as next spring.

2 – Big Ten wins for Indiana and Illinois, combined, since the last time they played on Oct. 18, 2008. One week following the Illini's 55-13 pounding of Indiana in Champaign, Indiana bounced back with a 21-19 win over Northwestern. Illinois, meanwhile, slipped past Iowa 27-24 on Nov. 1 of last year. Otherwise, these two teams have combined to lose all 12 of their league contests – including an 0-3 start for Illinois this season and an 0-2 start for Indiana.

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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