This coming Saturday, the Illinois Fighting Illini will square off against the Southern Illinois Salukis in what should be a nice season opener for the Illini. The focus for the Illini this year will be the improved offense, and the Salukis get the first chance to impede the new system Bill Cubit has implemented in Champaign this offseason.
The Saluki defense is a young squad, as the defensive line this year has a total of two games started among them.
Compared to last season, the Salukis have lost 15.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss, and 165 total tackles from the graduated linemen. Sophomore defensive end Brandon Williams was able to score a defensive touchdown last season for Southern Illinois.
While all of the starters on the depth chart have played at least ten games for the Salukis, only four of them were starters last season. That fact should not be something that spells doom for the Salukis, however.
As a squad, they scored six defensive touchdowns and blocked six kicks in 2012, returning three of those blocked kicks for touchdowns.
While Southern Illinois had decent defensive rankings in the Missouri Valley Conference, sitting in the top half in most categories, their passing defense and their opponents fourth down conversion rankings were in the bottom two in the conference.
If the struggles defending the pass continue this Saturday against Nathan Scheelhaase and the new offense that Bill Cubit is installing, Southern Illinois may be in for a long day.
The Saluki defense should be a good opening week test for the Illini. It will not be a shut down game that we will face in Big Ten play, but give respect to Southern Illinois.
This defense will not roll over and die. They are a tough nosed squad that will attempt to, any way they can, stop the Illini gameplan in its tracks. Look for a good game in the trenches and expect to see some good plays defensively on both sides of the field.
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