When looking ahead to the Illini’s upcoming showdown with the Hoosiers ahead of Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff in Champaign, there are three major storylines to consider:
Johnny Newton’s ‘wow’ factor
Illinois coach Bret Bielema has likened defensive tackle Johnny Newton to a “generational player.” Bielema recalls a meeting with former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who praised Joe Thomas as a “generational player.” After witnessing Newton’s spectacular play, Bielema has revisited the idea of a “generational player,” noting that Newton is the best interior defensive tackle he’s encountered in college football. The coach praised Newton’s ability to close on quarterbacks, highlighting his exceptional talent on the field.
Maintaining defensive momentum
The Illini defense demonstrated its prowess in the team’s last win against Minnesota, shutting down their opponents and allowing just 69 yards of total offense in the second half. Free safety Miles Scott hailed the team’s performance as “true defense” and emphasized the importance of maintaining that momentum in the upcoming game against Indiana.
Reggie Love III is set to make a comeback in Saturday’s game after missing several matches due to an ankle injury. Bielema expects Love’s experience to complement Kaden Feagin, providing a more well-rounded running game for the Illini.
Two key matchups
Illinois protection vs. Indiana linebacker Aaron Casey
The Illini’s offensive line will face a challenge from Indiana linebacker Aaron Casey, who ranks high in the Big Ten with 5 1/2 sacks and 13 1/2 tackles for loss. The battle in the trenches will be crucial for Illinois as they seek to protect their quarterback.
Illinois run game vs. Indiana defense
Indiana’s defense has struggled in stopping the run this season, ranking last in the Big Ten in this area. This presents an opportunity for Feagin and the Illini’s running game to make an impact.
One stat that matters
Ball security is a significant factor for Illinois, with an impressive record of fumbles recovered and a lower standing in fumbles lost in the league. This emphasizes the importance of maintaining possession and minimizing turnovers.
Illinois will win if
If the Illini can reproduce the high-level play they demonstrated in their last match consistently throughout the game, their chances of securing a win against Indiana will significantly increase.
Indiana will win if
Indiana’s defense and special teams will play a crucial role in the team’s chances of securing a win. Their performance against Wisconsin showcased their potential to secure a victory, and they’ll aim to replicate this success against Illinois.
Alex Martin is your guide to the global phenomenon of football. With a focus on international leagues and tournaments, he provides match commentary, player interviews, and behind-the-scenes stories from the world of football.