Saturday, the Illini will face their second test of the season as the Cincinatti Bearcats come to Champaign, IL looking to continue their dominance of Big Ten teams, as they previously shellacked Purdue 42-7.
The Illini know what they are up against, as the Bearcats are a very solid defensive unit, ranking 14th in the nation last season, only allowing a little over eighteen points a game.
As a team that can force turnovers and can find ways to force you into mistakes, look for Cincy to be aggressive at times in their schemes, looking to cause offensive struggles all day long for the Illini.
It is without a doubt that the best player on the defense, possibly the whole team, is linebacker Greg Blair, who totaled 138 tackles last year. Blair is without a doubt the vocal leader on this team, and the senior is not afraid to be the anchor of this defense.
Helping Greg Blair in the pass rush game is Silverberry Mouhon, a defensive end who could be one of the best defensive ends in the AAC.
As a sophomore, he improved more than anyone in the wake of injuries, letting himself be known in the AAC.
This squad led the Big East (now AAC) in passing defense last season, which could spell trouble for the Illini and Nathan Scheelhaase, as we saw last weekend the Illini like to air out the ball at times. If the Bearcats keep up the ability to shut down the passing game, the Illini may struggle to put up points.
That said, the Illini know how to spread out the ball, so that may help, as defensive coordinator Art Kaufman does use a lot of man to man defensive schemes at times, leaving his secondary on an island in some plays.
The secondary is anchored by seniors Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault, giving them exceptional experience in that regard. They have talent, speed, and ability, showing that they are able to impose their will on receivers.
Defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is one of the better coordinators in all of college football, showing the ability to improve defenses and call the right play. He is at times, however, guilty of being too reliable on man to man schemes, avoiding zone defenses.
If the Illini, primarily Scheelhaase, can spot this early, they may be able to jump out to a quick lead, keeping them off balance for the whole game.
In order for the Illini to win against this tough defense, they will have to rely on their passing game, but also be able to establish the run early, as the defense knows if they have you committed to the pass, they are able to hold you down in most situations.
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