Saturday's Mission: Keep Illini in Tailspin

The Illinois football team isn't living up to its nickname of the 'Fighting' Illini these days. This is a soft football team that Iowa will face on Saturday. Maybe the 'Punchless' Illini would be more appropriate.

But you won't see me shed a tear for Illinois, which ranks right up there with cafeteria food and a prostate exam on my list of favorite things.

As all Iowa fans know by now, Jon Beutjer will not be playing in the game as he has been sidelined for the rest of the year with a herniated disk in his back. His reception by the fans in Kinnick Stadium would have been cold at best. I was looking forward to Beutjer's return but a major whipping of Illinois would be just fine, even without JB being on hand to receive my cheers.

The Illini don't do anything well. With Beutjer, they had a good passing attack, but without him moving the ball is a struggle. Illinois has rotated quarterbacks Dustin Ward and Chris Pazan in Beutjer's absence, and they have been efficient but neither possesses the deep ball capability of Beutjer. In five games Pazan has one touchdown and one interception and in three games Ward has also one touchdown and one interception.

Illinois has thrown the most passes of any team in the Big Ten and only Michigan State has fewer rushing attempts. The low amount of rushing attempts is largely due to an ineffective offensive line.

Iowa's Fred Russell is only 54 yards behind the entire Illinois team for rushing yards. They average just 3.5 yards per carry and have only scored four touchdowns on the ground for the season. An already poor running game was made worse by the loss of freshman E.B. Halsey, who was Illinois' leading rusher and third leading receiver before his injury. With Halsey out, Illinois turns to Pierre Thomas and Morris Virgil for the running backs duty and they average 38.8 and 13.1 yards per game, respectively. That probably won't get it done against the stiff Iowa rush defense (73.6 yards per game).

The U of I passing game already was hurt by Beutjer going down but was damaged more when leading receiver Kelvin Hayden injured a knee and looks to be out indefinitely. Coverted quarterback Mark Kornfeld has the most catches of those receivers left standing with 35 catches and a 12.1 per catch average. Lonnie Hurst with 27 receptions and Carey and Jason Davis will see a majority of the minutes at the receiver position.

I wrote previously that Illinois was soft, and that is most apparent on the defensive side of the ball where Illinois has been pushed around all season. Illinois is 10th in the Big Ten in total defense, 10th in rushing defense, last in scoring defense and seventh in pass defense. The rush defense is just atrocious, giving up 199.8 yards per game, 4.5 per rush average and 24 touchdowns. The pass defense is only slightly better because Illinois has faced the second fewest pass attempts (behind Penn State) in the Big Ten. Illinois ranks only one spot behind Iowa in passing yards per game allowed, but the numbers are considerably worse for Illinois: 7.8 yards per catch for Illinois to 5.4 allowed for Iowa, just one interception to 13 touchdowns allowed for Illinois and eight interceptions to seven touchdowns allowed for Iowa. Illinois' opponents complete 60% of their passes (only Indiana is worse) and Iowa's opponents complete 56.2% of their passes.

Now, I should say that Illinois has played one more game than Iowa but it doesn't really matter, just one interception in nine games is horrible.

Matt Sinclair and Winston Taylor, who rank in the top Top 10 in the conference in total tackles, lead Illinois on defense. Sinclair is fourth in tackles with 89 total and also has two sacks while Taylor is sixth in tackles with 82 and has recorded 3.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks. The leading defensive lineman for Illinois is Derrick Strong who has seven tackles-for-loss. Look out for Marc Jackson, he has the lone interception for Illinois.

Illinois does everything a team with a poor record does: Can't run the ball, can't stop the run, and a terrible turnover margin (16 giveaways to just five takeaways).

Without strong line play you can't defeat Iowa. Iowa will be dominant on the line of scrimmage and dominate throughout the entire game.

I will be nice to see Maurice Brown return to the lineup after missing several weeks. Derrick Robinson will get a start as Jared Clauss will miss the game with an injury. Robinson is a talented player who has been behind some darn good football players at Iowa. Look for Robinson to have a breakout day. I would like to see Iowa blow it open early so Drew Tate can get some reps. Tate is likely the "next man in" next year and some more experience would go a long way.

Iowa wins this game easily, 34-6.


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