ILLINOIS: Three Days and Counting

Bloomington - Whether it's in the the coaching box or on the Memorial Stadium field, there are a slew of big head-to-head match-ups in this weekend's Indiana-Illinois contest. Hoosier Nation looks at three of them in today's preview segment...

IU Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada vs. ILL Co-Defensive Coordinator Curt Mallory - You won't see long-time acquaintances Canada and Mallory going head-to-head on the field or even on the sidelines. Instead, they'll be dueling each other from their respective coaching booths on the sixth floor of Memorial Stadium. As Indiana's offensive coordinator, Canada will be entrusted with kick-starting an IU offense that has produced only one meaningful touchdown in the last two games. One of the things Canada will be looking to do this weekend is find a way to produce some more big plays on offense, particularly in the passing game. To do that, he'll have to out-scheme Mallory, who oversees the Illini secondary. Illinois has had some issues defending the pass this season, ranking 10th in the Big Ten in pass defense efficiency and allowing opposing teams to complete a Big Ten-high 63.3 percent of their throws. Canada and Mallory go way back, as both served on Bill Mallory's Indiana staff in 1993-94 as graduate assistants. Their paths crossed again in 2004 – the final year of the Gerry DiNardo era. Mallory was in his third and final season as IU's secondary coach, while Canada joined the IU staff as the quarterbacks coach after serving as Northern Illinois' offensive coordinator. They've been on opposite sides ever since and have gone 2-2 against each other in the last four Indiana-Illinois encounters.

IU WR Tandon Doss vs. ILL WR Arrelious Benn – They won't be going head-to-head, per se, but whichever one of these two playmakers has the best game will go a long way toward determining the winner of this match-up. Doss has been Indiana's most reliable offense weapon this season, ranking second in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (129.7/game) and third in both receptions (6.8) and receiving yards (91.0). Whether it's passes downfield from Ben Chappell or a triple-option pitch from Mitchell Evans, Indiana is going to great lengths to get Doss as many touches as possible. Expect to see the Hoosiers make every effort to get the ball in his hands 12-15 times on Saturday. During his freshman and sophomore seasons, Illinois was utilizing Benn in the same way IU has been using Doss this year. But Benn's rushing attempts have been negligible this season (2), and teams are kicking away from him on kickoffs. Benn's touches/game have been cut nearly in half from where they were in both 2007 and 2008. With that said, it's only logical that Illinois' staff makes a concerted effort to get the ball in Benn's hands more this weekend. He caught seven passes for 130 yards and a score in Illinois' 55-13 win over IU a season ago, and the Illini want to get him untracked for the second half of the season.

IU DEs Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton vs. ILL QB Juice Williams – Illinois Coach Ron Zook hasn't settled on who will start at quarterback Saturday, but most outside observers would be stunned if he doesn't turn the team back over to Williams. Eddie McGee's 2-for-11, one-interception, zero-point effort against Michigan State was hardly the sort of kickstart Zook was looking for when he made the quarterback switch a week ago, so it seems likely that Williams will be back on the field this weekend. Assuming that happens, Indiana will be relying on big efforts from Kirlew and Middleton to keep Williams from getting untracked. Indiana's defensive ends figure to have success against Illinois tackles Jeff Allen and Ryan Palmer, neither of whom have dazzled with their play during the first half of the season. Illinois has given up a Big Ten-high 17 sacks, including four to the opponents' starting defensive ends in the last two weeks. It's important, though, that Middleton and Kirlew take advantage of their opportunities. Williams is elusive, physical, and capable of breaking a tackle. Kirlew and Middleton need to collapse the pocket and either wrap Williams up or force him into ill-advised throws. If they allow him out of the pocket he's capable of producing some very big plays with his arm or his legs.

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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