Illinois Football: Preview of the North Carolina Game From the Enemy


The Illinois football team takes on the North Carolina Tar Heels this weekend.

This game is pretty big for the Illinois Fighting Illini as they try to solidify the thought that things are changing in Champaign.

I wanted to get a little more insight on what the Illini will be facing this weekend so I went directly to the source.

Here is a little more knowledge from Zack Pearson, the Expert over at Keeping It Heel.

WI: Most dangerous offensive weapon for North Carolina?

ZP: The Tar Heels have a few guys on offense that can be labeled as “dangerous” but the guy I’d pick is running back T.J. Logan. The senior is FAST and can run by you in a flash. Against Georgia, Logan was by far UNC’s best offensive player as he recorded a rushing touchdown and added a kick return touchdown as well.

Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois Fighting Illini /

Illinois Fighting Illini

Logan won’t start the game, as that nod goes to Elijah Hood, but he’s a great spell back. The two create a two-headed monster that if used right can create fits for opposing defenses.

WI: Most dangerous defensive weapon for North Carolina?

ZP: Some might pick a defensive lineman as they can disrupt the play in the backfield, but I really think cornerback M.J. Stewart is the guy you’re looking for.

Stewart is among the best cornerbacks in the ACC and played a pretty good game against Georgia. He’s just got that knack for knowing where the ball is. He forced the only turnover of the game for the Bulldogs, striping it as they were mounting a drive inside UNC territory.

WI: Quarterback Marquise Williams brought a lot to the table.  Since he graduated, what are the pros and cons to Mitch Trubisky’s game?

ZP: Williams was a good fit for what UNC wanted to do on offense last year. But at times he was too careless with the ball. I think Trubisky protects the ball better and is a better decision-maker. The arm strength is there, he just needs to find that accuracy. If you watch him throw, you will notice the zip he has on the ball when it’s in the air.

He’s got the frame to fit into Fedora’s system and the athleticism, we just need to see it more and more as they run the offense.

The knock on Mitch is that his deep accuracy could just be a tad better. The kid can complete some throws, but his deep ball accuracy is something that needs work. That also comes from not having a lot of experience in the games. He’s made appearances before, but not as a starter.

WP: North Carolina has a lot of talent, what is the biggest strength of the team?

ZP: Their run game.

The problem a lot of UNC fans had with the Georgia result was that they felt like Elijah Hood didn’t get enough touches. Then they watched Nick Chubb run it down UNC’s throats. Hood had just 10 carries and recorded 72 yards in the loss. It was a familiar feeling when the same thing essentially happened against South Carolina in week one of 2015.

UNC has two really good running backs; they just need to use that to their advantage. We will see if anything changes Saturday night.

WI: Every team has flaws, what should the Illini expose on Saturday?

ZP: UNC’s run defense.

For the third-straight game, dating back to 2015, UNC’s defense was gashed by the run game on national television. It happened against Clemson, Baylor and then again against Georgia. Chubb ran for 222 yards as Georgia finally figured out that they didn’t have to throw to win.

If Illinois can come out and establish the run early, it could be another long game for the Tar Heels defense.

WI: What must UNC do to make sure they beat the Illini?

ZP: I hate to be repetitive but playing better defense against the run is the big key. If UNC can’t stop that run, Illinois will expose them again and it will open up the play action. That’s where the Tar Heels get in trouble.

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On the offensive side, UNC has to get wide receiver Mack Hollins involved early. He’s their big play threat and had to sit out the first half against Georgia for a helmet-to-helmet block that happened in 2015 against Baylor. He never really got going.

WI: The stable of wide receivers for UNC is quite impressive.  Who is the standout on Saturday?

ZP: Mack Hollins. Like I previously mentioned, he has to be involved. He’s their best big play receiver and can really go up and get it. Hollins should be a little more pumped up seeing that he can actually play in the first half of Saturday’s game.

Look for UNC to take a few shots deep to Hollins early. Trubisky tried it against Georgia and overthrew his receivers who had a step on the defenders.

WI: What is your prediction for the game and why?

ZP: Illinois is a better football team than they were a year ago and Lovie Smith is going to change that program. With that being said, it’s their first big game of the Smith era. I just don’t think Illinois is ready to take that step just yet.

I see Fedora fixing the play calling on offense and feeding Hood/Logan a lot more. UNC’s defense also plays a lot better and doesn’t miss 17 tackles.

Next: Illini Developing Construct of 2005 Team

It will be close, though.  UNC 27, Illinois 24.