What's going to happen in the first quarter? - This is a match-up pitting two teams in desperate need of something good to happen. Both are in the midst of three-game losing streaks, and a fourth straight setback for either team Saturday could turn a bad stretch into a bad season in a hurry.
With the confidence likely low for each team, a quick start is imperative for both. While the general consensus is that Big Ten games are won in the fourth quarter, I'm not so sure that's the case this weekend. If one of these two teams can jump out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, I'm not so sure that things couldn't get really ugly for the other in a hurry. A fast start for Indiana could get the crowd involved and have Bill Lynch's team feeling like it did three weeks ago. A quick start for the Illini, meanwhile, could have Juice Williams feeling like the Juice Williams of old before he was benched a week ago for sub-par play.
The problem for Indiana, though, is quick starts hasn't been its forte lately. During its three-game losing streak Indiana's defense has been miserable early on – in the opponents' opening two drives in the last three games, IU's foes have scored every time. The opening two possessions for Michigan, Ohio State and Virginia have included five touchdowns and one field goal. Indiana's offense, meanwhile, has gone three-and-out on four of those opening drives and fumbled on a fifth early possession. That all adds up to Indiana being outscored 38-7 in the first 10 minutes of the last three games.
That can't happen again Saturday night.
Will another dual-threat quarterback give Indiana's defense headaches? – After doing a very solid job in limiting Michigan's Tate Forcier three weeks ago, Indiana has had issues with dual-threat quarterbacks in each of the past two weeks. Now, they go up against another one in Illinois' Juice Williams.
Against Ohio State, Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor looked every bit as good as his preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year credentials would suggest. He threw for 159 yards and three first-half touchdowns and was close to 100 yards rushing on designed runs and added another touchdown on the ground to lead the Buckeyes to a 19-point win.
Last weekend against Virginia, Cavalier quarterback Jameel Sewell looked like Pryor and Tim Tebow all wrapped into one against the Hoosier defense. A senior three-year starter, Sewell eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark for just the second time in his career and established a new personal best in total offense with 337 yards in Virginia's 47-7 win.
Williams' modus operandi is very similar to that of both Pryor and Sewell – a very good runner with a strong arm who can sometimes be erratic with his throws. But like Pryor and Sewell, if Indiana's defense isn't applying enough pressure to make Williams hurry his throws and/or the secondary isn't in position to make him throw into tight spaces, then he's more than capable of picking the Hoosiers apart. Getting to him early and keeping him from developing some confidence will be key Saturday night.
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
ILLINOIS: Two Days and Counting
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