Last weekend, the Illinois Fighting Illini took it to the Cincinnati Bearcats defense, piling on the yards and the points in what looked to be a game the Illini were in full control of. This week, the Illini get an even bigger test in the Washington Huskies, touting one of the best defenses in the Pac 12, if not the entire nation.
This is a defense that held the Boise State Broncos to zero touchdowns for their first time since 1997. That’s fifteen years. Fifteen years the Broncos have scored a touchdown in every single game. That streak alone is impressive, but the ability to stop that streak is possibly even more impressive. The Huskies’ D is solid all around, from the line to the corners and safeties.
Similar to the Illini offense, the Huskies defense is on the rise. The rush and pass defense is getting better, and their scoring defense is superb. Between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the Huskies improved from 116th to 23rd in the nation in means of passing defense.
The group of Gregory Ducre, Marcus Peters, Sean Parker, and Will Shamburger will be looking to stifle Nathan Scheelhaase all day, while simultaneously trying to shut down the likes of Steve Hull, Ryan Lankford, and Miles Osei.
As cornerbacks and safeties, the four played superb against Boise State in their only game this season. Parker had a key interception in that game and was an honorable mention All-Pac 12 in 2012.
Junior linebacker John Timu recorded a game high 13 tackles two weeks ago, convincing fans that he may cause headaches for the Illini offense on the line.
He is a quick, powerful back and is able to control the line and close up gaps at will. His career has been a bit hindered by injury woes, but when healthy he is one of the best in the Pac 12.
Shaq Thompson, a sophomore linebacker is another defensive concern, as he recorded nine stops in their only game this season. Thompson was a second team freshman All-American and started all thirteen games as a freshman in the nickel package.
Look for these two backs to rush the line most of the game, attempting to keep Scheelhaase on the move and off balance.
Overall, this is a defensive squad that is no pushover. If the Illini are determined to win and improve their record to 3-0, they need to do three things:
1) They need to keep the holes in the line open and not allow the defensive line of Washington to eliminate the running lanes. If the running game is not able to get started, and the passing game is rushed all day, the offense will need to find other ways to move the ball, because Washington does not let up on defense.
2) Nathan Scheelhaase needs to be able to recognize the defensive threat, such as picking up blitzes and keeping an eye out for spies. This team, Washington, prides itself on its improved defense, and it is good. Hau’oli Kikaha, a junior defensive end, could plague Nathan all game long. At 6’3,” 250 pounds, he is big enough and quick enough to tip passes and to break through the line with speed to cause offensive woes all game long.
3) The Illini also need to keep playing their offensive game just like they have been, as that has worked for them thus far in the season. If Washington is able to shut down the passing attack of the Illini with their experienced cornerbacks and safeties, the Illini could be looking at a long day.
All in all, the Huskies defense will be one of the Illini’s biggest tests this season.
If they are able to get out of this game with a win, it could be one of their biggest wins in recent memory. The win would be big not only because the game is in Chicago and not because the Huskies are ranked, but because the defense of Washington is such a talented, disciplined squad with the ability to hang with almost anyone they face week in and week out.
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