On Saturday, Illinois will return home for its own homecoming game after two tough road contests.
Emerging 3-3 following the brutal “State Stretch” of games, Illinois is looking good. All three Illinois losses have come to ranked and undefeated opponents. In fact, all three opponents that beat Illinois are ranked in the top 11 of the BCS polls (#11 Missouri, #10 Ohio State, #7 Michigan State) and have a combined 19-1 record.
With all of this in mind, the Illini should feel confident heading into this weekend.
On the other hand, the Indiana Hoosiers should be less comfortable, despite a 4-2 record. All 4 Indiana wins have come against weak non-conference opponents, with several of them uncomfortably close.
While Indiana has one of the nation’s most prolific passing attacks, the Hoosiers are lacking in most other aspects of the game.
How Indiana Fared in 2009 and Thus Far This Season
The Hoosiers had a disappointing 2009 season.
After starting out 3-0 (albeit against cupcake non-conference opponents), the Hoosiers finished the season 4-8. Their lone conference win came at home against the Fighting Illini, who had only defeated in-state foe Illinois State at that point of the 2009 season.
In 2010, the Hoosiers are putting up some impressive statistics but still struggling in the conference.
Indiana has already equaled its 2009 win total, but has yet to defeat a conference opponent, losing a shootout to Michigan 42-35 and getting blown out by the Buckeyes 38-10 at home.
Much like their instate NFL brethren, the Colts, the Hoosiers have adopted a pass first-mentality and struggle to move the ball on the ground.
The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten and rank 5th in the nation in passing yards per game.
Their quarterback, 5th year senior Ben Chappell, is 8th in the nation in passing yards.
The trade off is that the Hoosiers are 104th in the nation in rushing yards.
After surviving a scare at home against Arkansas State, squeaking out a 36-34 win, the Hoosiers are visiting Champaign with the hopes of spoiling the Illini homecoming.
To do that, however, Indiana will need to do something they have not done since 2007: win a conference game on the road.
Illinois – Indiana Series History
The Hoosiers and the Fighting Illini have faced each other 66 times since their first meeting in 1899.
Unlike the basketball rivalry between the two teams, which is tied at 82 wins apiece, the football rivalry is dominated by the Illini, which holds a 43-21-2 record all time against Indiana.
The past 4 meetings have been a 2-2 split for the teams.
In 2006, Indiana beat Illinois 34-32 during a heart breaker in Champaign.
In 2007, the Illini exacted revenge by taking down the Hoosiers 27-14 in Bloomington.
The Illini also won the 2008 matchup, lighting up the IU secondary as they scored 55 points in a 42-point rout.
Last year, the Hoosiers took advantage of a struggling Illinois offense and porous defense to score their lone conference win.
Although the rivalry between these two schools is more traditionally linked to basketball, both teams will take this game seriously.
Both teams need a win here if they want to go bowling.
Just as Indiana is looking for its first conference road win since 2007, Illinois is seeking its first homecoming win since 2007.
Illinois has the stronger defense, but Indiana has the more experienced quarterback.
This weekend’s game should be exciting.
Even though the Illini should be favored to win, nothing is ever certain with Illinois football.
Ben Chappell vs. the Illinois Secondary
The IU senior quarterback is putting up some very impressive numbers this season, playing with much confidence and a great supporting cast of wide receivers. I
llinois’ secondary is much better than it was when the two teams met last season, and Terry Hawthorne should be back to his old self.
While Illinois will help keep fresh legs rotating in the game, Indiana will still be quite the test. Chappell has the ability to continually pick apart the defense and the experience not to let a pick get him out of rhythm.
While pressure from the defensive line would really help the Illinois secondary, the Illini will have to stop the big plays if they want to avoid another disappointing homecoming loss.
Nathan Scheelhaase vs. Himself
Scheelhaase has been great so far this season, and when he struggled a bit in the Missouri game, he answered with a great game against SIU.
However, two 3-pick games in 6 starts can get into a quarterback’s head.
If Scheelhaase can shrug off his struggles against the Spartans and make good decisions, he should have a great game against a weak Indiana defense.
However, if last week’s performance gets to him, even this lackluster Hoosier defense could create some big turnovers.
Bill Lynch vs. Ron Zook
Both coaches entered the season with pressure from their fan bases to get to a bowl game or get out.
Indiana only needs 2 more wins to become bowl eligible, but they will be underdogs in all of their remaining games (the Hoosiers do not face Minnesota this year).
Illinois has already matched its win total from 2009 and has gotten through the toughest part of its schedule with a 3-3 record.
The Illini are favored in this game, but Zook is only 1-4 during Illinois homecoming games.
If the Illini lose another homecoming and fail to make a bowl this season, it is hard to see him staying past his current contract.
Three Players to Watch
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase
As mentioned above, a lot of the outcome of this game will depend on how the freshman handles the rough Michigan State game.
His coaches and teammates have all been very supportive, and the bounce-back from the Missouri game is promising.
However, nothing is sure when dealing with a freshman.
A lot is riding on Scheelhaase’s shoulders, but Writing Illini is betting he will not disappoint fans this weekend.
Running Back Mikel Leshoure
After being held to another sub-100-yard game against Michigan State, Leshoure should asset himself against a weak Indiana defense.
The Hoosiers are 85th in the nation in rushing defense (as opposed to 12th and 22nd for OSU and MSU) and are suffering from some injuries on the defensive side of the ball.
After a shaky performance from Scheelhaase last week, the Illinois coaches will use Leshoure and his fellow backs Jason Ford and Troy Pollard liberally against the Hoosiers.
Defensive Lineman Corey Liuget
Liuget and the rest of the defensive line will have to work hard to pressure Chappell into making bad decisions.
However, the Illini front four has proved capable of getting to the quarterback.
Liuget will need to lead the defensive line this weekend to help the Illinois secondary avoid an aerial assault from Chappell.
Until tomorrow and the Thursday Cram Session.
Topics: Arkansas State, Basketball, Ben Chappell, Big Ten, Big Ten Football, Bill Lynch, Champaign, Champaign-Urbana, Corey Liuget, Football, Hoosiers, Illini, Illinois, Illinois Basketball, Illinois Defensive Backs, Illinois Fighting Illini Football, Illinois Football, Illinois State, Indiana, Indiana Basketball, Indiana Football, Indiana Hoosiers, Indianapolis Colts, Jason Ford, Michigan Football, Michigan State, Michigan State Football, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Mikel Leshoure, Missouri, Missouri Quarterback, Missouri Tigers, Missouri Tigers Football, Nathan Scheelhaase, NFL, Ohio State, Ohio State Buckeyes, Ohio State Buckeyes Football, Ohio State Football, Ron Zook, Ron Zook Nathan Scheelhaase, State Stretch, Terry Hawthorne, Troy Pollard, University Of Illinois, Writing Illini