5 Questions: Illinois

Big Red Report caught up with Illini Playbook's Ryan Easterling to talk Illinois football.

1.) Illinois starts 3-1 for the second straight season. What is the team’s confidence level after the non-conference start?

“The fan base in general is still guarded after last year's 3-1 start. Illinois is glad to have three wins and most fans anticipated a 3-1 non-conference record, but the Big Ten is a different story. Illinois only managed one win in Big Ten play last year against a dismal Purdue squad, so the bar isn't set high. Still the goal is a bowl this year so Illini fans are hoping for at least a respectable showing against a Nebraska team that can really run the ball.”


2.) OSU transfer Wes Lunt has been very good so far, what are his biggest strengths as a quarterback?

"Wes can make a lot of throws that previous Illinois quarterbacks haven't been able to make. But his biggest strength is probably his ability to respond after a mistake. Several coaches have singled out Lunt as being "even keel" and laud his responses to adversity. Illinois has had to come back from a deficit in each of their wins, and Lunt's resolve has been a big part of that."


3.) Despite a new QB, the offense hasn't really changed much this season? Still pretty multiple?

"Nobody expected Nathan Scheelhaase to be as prolific of a passer as he was last year, but he worked his game around the offensive philosophy. Wes Lunt isn't nearly as mobile as Scheelhaase, but he does have better passing skills and is able to complete many of the passes that Scheelhaase struggled to make last year."


4.) Josh Ferguson was a guy the Husker struggled to keep in check last season, did he sort of break out of a slump last week?

"From a statistical standpoint, Ferguson had his best week of the year against Texas State. His versatility is what really makes him dangerous as a player. As a pure rusher, Ferguson has been hit or miss, but when he gets in space, he's a big play threat. If the Huskers can keep him in check, it can really keep Illinois one-dimensional."


5.) The one blemish this season was against Washington, what did the Huskies do offensively that was effective against the defense?

Plain and simple, Washington ran the ball well. The Huskies put up 245 yards on Illinois. Illinois continues to struggle against teams who run the ball effectively, with missed tackles being a big concern. If Illinois can finish tackles how they should, it would help the rush defense immensely.


BONUS QUESTIONS:


6.) A guy not named Lunt/Ferguson that Nebraska fans need to be watching out for?

"Illinois played the Texas State game without leading receiver Geronimo Allison. The big play threat sat with an injury but is supposedly back for this weeknd's matchup. Allison can really go up and get the jump ball and had a big game against Washington prior to the injury. The other player to watch is Mike Dudek, who is in the mold of Husker receiver Jordan Westerkamp. Dudek is a gamer who has speed, agility, and excellent hands for a freshman. He led Illinois in receiving against Texas State and his role continues to grow in the offense."


7.) How is the Illinois tackle situation and will they be able to keep Randy Gregory in check?

"Due to injury, Illinois has had to rotate a couple different guys in at the tackle positions. While Cvijanovic has held his own at left tackle, Illinois has been forced to rotate Chris O'Connor into the lineup after the injury to Pat Flavin earlier in the season. With Flavin back, the line is at full strength, but Randy Gregory will still be tough to contain. If he can pressure Lunt, the Illinois offense will likely struggle, however if they can protect, they will get some points on the board."


8.) Your prediction and why....

49-31 Nebraska.

"The Illinois offense will eventually figure out Nebraska, but not before Ameer Abdullah has done some damage. Illinois struggled to contain Abdullah last year and it appears that Abdullah could be poised for another big game against the Illini this year."


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