Only two days to go until the most anticipated game of the season...we break down both sides of Illinois and how the Huskies can take advantage.
Huskies on Offense
The Illini only have one returning starter from last year on the defensive line and that is Clay Nurse (6'3" 260), who led the team with 10.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks last year. He will be playing at the "Bandit" position, since the former starter at that position Michael Buchanan was suspended after a DUI arrest. Nurse's backup Whitney Mercilus (6'5" 265) will be manning the other side at DE and he had 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 PBU and a QBH against SIU.
On the inside, Cory Liuget (6'3" 300) and Akeem Spence (6'1" 305) are both new starters, but will be huge bodies to move. Liuget led U of I with 2.5 TFL and 6 tackles vs. Missouri.
Linebacker is the strength of the defense by far, as Nate Bussey, Martez Wilson and Ian Thomas are all returning starters from last year. Wilson is the star of the defense, as he had to miss all of last year with a herniated disk in his neck. He had 11 tackles and a TFL vs Missouri.
The secondary has been really shaken up due to the fact that CB Terry Hawthorne (broken foot) and FS Suppo Sanni (ruptured achilles) will be missing Saturday and most of the season. Tavon Wilson is the only returning "starter", but he'll be lining up at SS instead of his natural position at CB. CB Justin Green was a RB until two weeks before the season and Travon Bellamy switched from SS to the other CB spot and has been racking up the tackles (12 vs. Mizzou, 7 vs. SIU). COD transfer Trulon Henry just moved up the depth chart to starting FS.
Attack, attack, attack the secondary. it is going to be tough to run against such good linebackers and D-Line, but the secondary is really shaky. Missouri exploited this as they were able to pass at will in the 2nd half of their first game. The rushing defense stats are misleading, considering how Gabbert threw the ball 48 times and SIU is an FCS team.
Huskies on Defense
Nathan Scheelhaase is the man running the show behind center and he's more of a running threat than a passing threat as a redshirt freshman. In the first game, he was only 9 of 23 passing for 81 yds, 1 TD and 3 INTs. He also rushed the ball 16 times for 76 yds. Against lesser competition in SIU, he was 14 of 18 for 229 yds and 2 TDs while gaining minimal yds on the ground. Where will he fall stat-wise against the Huskies? Probably somewhere around the middle.
At RB, Mikel Leshoure is a one-man wrecking crew. Against Mizzou he rushed 20 times for 112 yds and against SIU he had 15 car for 115 yds and 2 TDs. Here's what he did last year:
At wide receiver, Eddie McGee (6'4" 210) is probably their biggest threat, but he went down with a sprained ankle in their last game against the Salukis. He is also usually the backup QB as well, so the Illini made some adjustments. Jack Ramsey will be moving from CB back to WR and former NIU de-commit Miles Osei has been named to the backup spot at QB. Watch out for McGee's status for the game.
Jarred Fayson (6'0" 215) is a Florida transfer that leads all receivers with 8 catches for 147 yds and 2 TDs so far.
On the O-Line, they return starters at Jeff Allen (6'5" 305) at LT and Hugh Thornton (6'5" 305) and Randall Hunt (6'6" 315) at the guard positions. They should be a pretty solid unit opening up holes for LeShoure to run through.
Blitz all day against Scheelhaase. Make him feel uncomfortable on every snap. Contain him and don't let him get out of the pocket and beat us with his legs. Focus on containing LeShoure first and of course don't give up the big play on defense (still waiting for this to happen).