The second game of the Karl Dorrell era brings the Illinois Fighting Illini to the Rose Bowl. A bit suspect after two games, Illinois will face a UCLA team with superior talent that wants to prove itself...
-- UCLA is 4-5 all-time against
Illinois, with UCLA winning the
last game they played in the Rose Bowl -- the 1984 Rose Bowl. In that game, which UCLA won45-9, current UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell caught two touchdown passes.
-- Illinois Head Coach Ron Turner
is in his seventh season at
Illinois, with a record of
39-43.He earned Big Ten Coach of
the year in 2001 after leading
Illinois to the Big Ten
championship and the Nokia Sugar Bowl. It was the Illini's first league
championship since 1990.
-- In 2002,
Illinois was 5-7 overall and 4-4
in the Big Ten, which tied them for fifth.
Illinois is currently 1-1. They lost to
Missouri in their season opener,
15-22, then beat IllinoisState last week, 49-22.
Illinois, in its first two games, is out-scoring
opponents 24-7 in the first quarter.
-- Losing to
Colorado last week, it's the first
time since 1997 the Bruins have lost their season opener. In that 1997 season,
UCLA then lost to Tennessee in its
second game, at home, then won ten games in a row to finish 10-2.The winning streak continued through the
1998 season and last 20 games.
-- UCLA has won five straight home
-- UCLA has won 10 of its last 12
non-conference games dating back to 1999. Both losses were to Colorado – last
season and last week.
-- Kickoff is . The game will be televised on a regional basis by ABC
Sports. Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts will call the action.
OFFENSE V. UCLA'S DEFENSE
While many like to generalize that
all Big Ten teams are pound-the-ball-up-the-middle offenses,
Illinois, under Turner, truly
isn't.Turner has instituted a
pro-style offense, based on a ball-control passing game, and it's probably the
most complex in the conference. It lines up mostly in a two-back, two-wideout
set, but can also, at times, employ up to four receivers. Over the last several seasons,
Illinois has been one of the most
productive offenses in the Big Ten, averaging 415 yards and just over 30 points
per game. Last year it averaged 446
yards per game.
Running back Morris Virgil. (Getty Images).
This year's edition, like last
year's, is almost completely dependent on
Illinois' exceptional quarterback,
Jon Beutjer. The transfer from
Iowa has thrown for over 3,000
career yards at Illinois and is
definitely the engine to their offense. So far this season he's thrown for close
to 500 yards in two games – but curiously had a better outing against
Missouri (throwing for 284 yards)
than he did against IllinoisState (207).He's a big, long kid (6-5) with an
accurate arm and experience at the position.
Beutjer, though, might be a bit
limited this season compared to last year since he lost four receiving targets
to graduation, and all four actually are still with an NFL team as late as this
week. The two starting receivers stepping into that void are two rookies, JC
Kelvin Hayden (6-2, 180) and true
freshman Lonnie Hurst (6-3, 192).Hayden, who was considered a big-time JC receiver, and Hurst, the first
true freshman to start at Illinois
since 1980, will have a hard time
matching up against UCLA's talented and experienced secondary, even though they
have good size. Watch for Illinois
to try to get either one of their big receivers isolated on UCLA's 5-9
cornerback Matt Clark. Clark had a so-so game against Colorado, and he obviously
will be the guy that opposing offenses will try to pick on all season long with
the likes of Matt Ware, Ben Emanuel and Jarrad Page also in the UCLA defensive
backfield. Their starting tight end is junior Anthony McClellan, but they're
very high on redshirt freshman Melvin Bryant, (6-5, 220). He also might line up
as a wideout, Marcedes style.
UCLA's passing defense looked very
good against Colorado – a team
that looked like they had a pretty effective passing game the week before
against ColoradoState.Key will be getting pressure on Beutjer,
who is averagely mobile.Illinois opponents in its
first two weeks, Missouri and
IllinoisState, got some decent pressure on
Beutjer, and pressuring a quarterback could be one of a few strongsuits of
UCLA's defense this year.Illinois' passing game, in
its first two games, doesn't look like it's clicking, as if the quarterback and
receivers aren't still on the same page.Its best receiver in the
Missouri game, senior fullback
Carey Davis (and considered one of the best fullbacks in the country overall),
sat out the IllinoisState game with a staff infection
that developed on a knee he had operated on two weeks ago.The latest is that he's out for the UCLA
Brandon Chillar (Getty Images).
was also the Illini's returning top yardage gainer on the ground from last
season.Last season'stop running back, Antoineo Harris, is
gone, and Illinois has filled the
tailback position with co-starters in junior Morris Virgil and freshman E.B.
Halsey. Both are about the same size – the 5-11 and 190-lb. range – and have
decent speed. Halsey has run for about 200 yards in two games and Virgil had a
solid game last week against IllinoisState.It is hard to get a bead on the
Illinois running game, though;
last week against IllinoisState they racked up 254 yards on the
ground, but the week before, against Big 12-er
Missouri, could muster only
127.It would seem that UCLA's
defensive front led by Rodney Leisle and Dave Ball would present
Illinois' most serious challenge
to their run game yet.
returns three starters to its offensive line, but replaces both offensive guards
with two new starters, one a redshirt freshman at right guard in Matt Maddox.Watch for UCLA's defensive
line to try to exploit Maddox as much as possible.
Linebacker Brandon Chillar had a
great game against Colorado,
seemingly all over the field, making 12 tackles.Spencer Havner is expected to play.With Havner back, UCLA's linebackers
also look to make a big impression against
Colorado's short, ball-control
passing game and their inexperienced running backs.
UCLA. Again, UCLA just has too much talent in its defense for
Illinois to get the best of
it.You can probably expect
Illinois to sustain a couple of
drives during the course of the game – in much the same way that
Colorado did. Odds are when you go
up against a quarterback as effective as Beutjer you can't keep him out of the
end zone the entire game.But UCLA
is superior in personnel in every unit matchup, clearly superior in its
receiver-defensive back matchup and offensive line-defensive line matchup.UCLA will make Illinois drive the field
with its short passing game, ensuring against any big-play scores, and make
Beutjer have to overcome UCLA's pass rush and pass coverage to score
UCLA'S OFFENSE V.
defensive coordinator Mike Cassity made a bit of a name for himself back in 2001
when the Illini won the Big Ten with an atttacking style of defense.
Since then they've tried to
duplicate it, to limited success.
Illinois' Derrick Strong. (Getty Images).
that to be a gambling,
attacking style of defense you need some strong personnel in your defensive
backfield, and Illinois doesn't
have the talent there.
They do have talent on defense
elsewhere, though. Illinois best
defensive player is 6-4, 265-lb. senior defensive end Derrick Strong. He's one
of those guys that consistently seems to impact a game, from making tackles,
blocking field goals (which he did last week against Illinois State, and then
returned it for a 66-yard touchdown), disrupting running plays and pressuring
quarterbacks. Against Missouri, he
seemed like he was in the face of the Tigers' quarterback the entire game. In
two games he's had 12 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.He'll be a handful for UCLA's tackles to
control, and their main challenge in keeping quarterback Drew Olson pristine and
The other stud on defense for
Illinois is junior middle
linebacker Matt Sinclair (6-3, 230). Sinclair was expected to be a big
contributor after he stepped up to start the last eight games of the 2002
season, and so far he hasn't disappointed. He leads the team with 19 tackles in
two games. Amazingly enough, he missed the beginning of Illinois' 2003 fall
camap when he contracted Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and spent time in an
intensive care unit with a 108 degree temperature.
With Strong and Sinclair leading
the line and linebacker units,
Illinois has been solid against
the run in its first two games, allowing an average of 125 yards per game.For UCLA's struggling running game,
that's not good news.The Bruins
will have to pump some life into their running game if they hope to be effective
against Illinois. Manuel White is
now earmarked to get involved in the offense, being moved up to second string
tailback as well as fullfilling his duties as first-team fullback. Maurice Drew is expected to still get some time
at tailback. But watch for Manuel White to get some good opportunties to prove
himself in UCLA's running game.Tyler Ebell will have to show he can make some things happen or the Bruin
coaches could go to White pretty quickly.
Manuel White. (Getty Images).
The strength of UCLA's offense,
though, looks to go straight ahead against
Illinois weakness on defense –
UCLA's passing game against
Illinois' pass defense.
UCLA's passing game looked solid
last week, under both Matt Moore and Drew Olson at quarterback.It has some of the best targets you
could ever want as receivers in wide-out Craig Bragg and tight end Marcedes Lewis, who had his breakout game against
Colorado last week.Also, watch for White to have some balls
thrown his way, too, as UCLA tries to get him isolated in the flat against
generally, is a team that is okay to good in most of its units, but its one true
weakness is in its pass defense.IllinoisState torched
Illinois last week for 385 yards.
One receiver alone, exploiting
Illinois' suspect cornerbacks,
racked up 245 yards by himself.Christian Morton is a returning starter who had questions about him
throughout fall camp and last season.The other corner, TamanJordan, is new,
and was used by IllinoisState.UCLA has a definite advantage, sending
Bragg, Lewis, White and Junior Taylor out into the pattern, with
Illinois lacking the personnel to
cover all of them.
Drew Olson had a very strong
showing against Colorado, and you
can only expect that, in his home opener, with a friendly crowd, he'll be as
efficient as he was in Boulder.While Strong is a strong pass rusher,
overall the Illini haven't been successful in pressuring the quarterback that
much in their first two games.They
use multiple fronts and employ quite a bit of blitzing, but it hasn't resulted
in too much quarterback pressure.UCLA's offensive line looked fine in its pass protection last week
generally, only experiencing a couple of breakdowns throughout the game, but
giving Olson time to execute.
Illinois's pass rush isn't any
better than Colorado's so you can
expect Olson again to have time to set up.
Also, you'd have to expect UCLA to
be at least a little more aggressive in its play calling this week. After its
passing game, especially its short passing game, looked effective last week
while Colorado stacked the box
against the run, it makes sense for UCLA to go through the air to loosen things
up.You'd also think that UCLA
would want to get the ball in the hands of its playmakers Bragg and Lewis as
much as possible against Illinois'
Definitely something to watch is Olson's well-being. With Matt Moore out to due to a bruised knee and #3 quarterback John Sciarra suspended for this game, UCLA would have to turn to a redshirt freshman walk-on in Brian Callahan.
Advantage:UCLA.Only because UCLA's strength, its
passing game, is going up head-to-head against probably
Illinois' biggest weakness – its
passing defense.After last week's
anemic production on offense overall against Colorado, and all the mistake that
shot them in the foot, playing at home for the first time, it's easy to expect
UCLA's offense to be charged with more energy, especially if it feeds off the
easy success you would anticipate it would have throwing the ball.
PREDICTION:UCLA has both superior offensive and
defensive personnel, and looked solid on special teams against
Colorado, so it's really
impossible to believe Illinois
would be able to beat the Bruins. Could the Illini hang tough? Certainly. After
all, this is a Big Ten team with some big, tough Big Ten type football players –
and especially if UCLA doesn't clean up the issues from last week, or its
offense isn't more dynamic.But
you'd have to expect that UCLA will be on its best behavior before a Rose Bowl,
home-opener crowd, and the coaches and players, after the
Colorado game, will be highly
focused.With just a moderately
focused team combined with UCLA's talent,
Illinois could stay close but
ultimately can't compete.