After a tough loss at home to Navy, the Texas State Bobcats will hit the road to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini on Saturday at 3 pm. Jim Vainisi of SBNation's Illinois site "The Champaign Room" joined us to talk about the Illini and preview this matchup. You can view the Texas State perspective of "Know Your Enemy" over at TCR's website.
1. What were your expectations for the Illini coming into the season, and what are your views on the current state of the program after their 2-1 start?
Fans were up-in-arms after last week's disappointing loss against Washington, but we're still on the right track with a 2-1 record. Coming into the season 6 wins and a bowl birth was viewed as the expectation, but 7 wins isn't out of the question thanks to the B1G's recent struggles.
2. How would you assess Tim Beckman's current status as head coach in Champaign? Does he have a bright future ahead with the Illini or should he be on the hot seat?
For those of you that don't know, Beckman currently holds a record of 8-18 (1-15) at Illinois. It's been a rough start to his tenure, but our program was a blazing dumpster fire when he took over and, in my opinion, significant progress has been made. Team GPA is at an all-time high, there have been zero arrests since his hire, no one has left the program-it's obvious that a culture is being built. Unfortunately, the only way to silence the critics is to win. Mike Thomas (our AD) will have a tough time retaining Beckman If the team fails to make a bowl game this season as he's already feeling some pressure from our divided fan base.
3. Illinois has begun a new era on offense with former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit installing the spread. Who are the biggest offensive weapons for the Illini , and what would Texas State need to do to defend them effectively?
Look out for Wes Lunt. After transferring from OkSt. and sitting out a year, Lunt has impressed as he's thrown for 9 TD's while averaging a bit more than 320 yards/game. The Illinois native had a rough outing against Washington, but look for him to bounce back in a big way. Lunt isn't very mobile (but he's extremely aware in the pocket), so if Texas State can get some pressure they may be able to force to him to make a few mistakes.
The receiving corps may lack experience, but talent-wise it's the best we've had in several years. At 6-4, JUCO transfer Geronimo Allison has established himself as a legitimate downfield weapon for Wes Lunt; he's averaging 100 yards/game through the first 3 weeks. Freshmen Mikey Dudek and Malik Turner have also burst on the scene and are seeing significant play time. Josh Ferguson has gotten off to a slow start this season, but he's perhaps the best dual-threat RB in the B1G-it's only a matter of time until he gets going.
4. Which Illini players have made the biggest impact on the defensive side of the ball, and what kind of game plan do you think Illinois will use to contain dual threat quarterback Tyler Jones?
Earnest Thomas III has made a big impact this season after making the transition from S to STAR; he may be our best player on the defensive side. CB V'Angelo Bentley is a huge threat in the return game and he'll likely be covering the Bobcat's #1 receiver throughout the game. LB Mason Monheim is a tackling machine and has done a good job of anchoring the front-7. All-in-all, there really isn't anything too special about the Illinois defense.
I'd imagine that the Illini will try to pressure Jones early on. If that backfires, which it probably will, expect them to use a spy for the remainder of the game (that still probably won't work).
5. From the outside looking in, what is your perception of Texas State as a program? Which Bobcats stand out to you as potential players for the Illini to focus on?
Honestly, I don't know a whole lot about Texas State. Dual-threat QBs have given the Illini fits over the past few seasons, so I'm expecting Tyler Jones to have a good game. On defense, I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for David Mayo as he seems to be your best player. It's too bad that Mike Orakpo is out for the season because it would've been fun to see him go up against our offensive line.
6. What is your prediction for Saturday's game?
As usual, the Illini will find a way to make this a close game; the Bobcats will probably even lead at some point. However, I expect Illinois to pull away at the end and win somewhat comfortably. 38 - 24 Illinois.
Thank you Jim for taking the time to preview Saturday's game! You can of course check out The Champaign Room for more coverage of Saturday's game and Illinois football.