LOCATION: Memorial Stadium (60,670), Champaign, IL
WHEN: 3:00 PM, CST
RADIO: 105.3 FM (Austin)/89.9 FM (San Marcos)/930 AM (San Antonio)
WEATHER: 84°F, 40% chance of rain
LINE: Illinois -13, 62.5 O/U
After a lackluster 28-17 comeback win over FCS opponent Youngstown State to open the season, the Illini were able to come back and win a 42-34 shootout over a somewhat salty Western Kentucky team that was fresh off of pasting Bowling Green. What little momentum they gained with those two wins was blunted in a 44-19 blowout loss to Washington in Seattle, but much like the Bobcats against Navy the Illini played much better in the 2nd half of their defeat.
The Illini defense likely won't strike a lot of fear into the hearts of many FBS opponents. Navy's defense stuck to their M.O. and keyed on Bobcat mistakes, while Illinois hasn't really created much of a defensive identity other than being somewhat better at containing the run than the pass. Unless Texas State shoots themselves repeatedly in the foot like against Navy--or has another referee crew that's more than happy to help them fine tune their aim towards said foot--the Bobcats should be able to run their offense more efficiently than last week.
However, Illinois has plenty of talent at skill positions on offense, and they return an experienced offensive line loaded with juniors and seniors. Stopping the Illini is going to be a problem for Texas State. Shootout, anyone?
Players to Watch
- Wes Lunt, So. QB - The Oklahoma State transfer and Rochester, IL native is the centerpiece of UI's new spread attack as installed by Illini offensive coordinator and former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit. Lunt can pick apart opponents if he's given time in the pocket, but he's also vulnerable to making mistakes under pressure. He's put up some impressive numbers thus far through three games: 971 yards, 9 touchdowns/2 interceptions, a 66.4% completion rate, and a QB rating of 161.3.
- Mike Dudek, Fr. WR - With Geronimo Allison being listed as out for Saturday's game, the tiny 5'11" freshman will look to burn Texas State's secondary. He's had a number of targets from Wes Lunt and has speed to burn. Craig Mager will likely have to take the unenviable task of covering him.
- V'Angelo Bentley, Jr. CB - Bentley is an aggressive corner that can come off the line of scrimmage and make some tackles and will likely cover Brandon Smith or Ben Ijah. However, he's really known for his ability to blow by coverage units as a kick and punt returner, and has shown that he can be a big play generator in the past.
- David Mayo, Sr. LB - With Michael Orakpo out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, Mayo is now going to be counted upon even more than usual to shore up a vulnerable Bobcat defense. Mayo far and away leads the team in tackles with 25 and also has half a sack and a forced fumble to his name. He's also an emotional leader who is always good for some massive hits.
- CJ Best, Jr. WR - The converted running back is surprisingly the third leading rusher on the team this season mostly because of his proficiency in making defenders miss on end around plays. His sheer athletic ability demands that he be featured more in the hurry up offense. We'll see if the coaches give him some more opportunities Saturday.
- Craig Mager, Sr. CB - Mager is the unquestioned senior leader of Texas State's young secondary, and he has solid pass breakup skills to go along with his ability to fly to the ball off the line and stick opposing running backs. His main weakness is occasionally giving up big plays on misreads of an opposing receiver's route, which admittedly is a glaring one. Mager and his secondary will be tested early and often against a UI receiving corps that often uses four-wide looks and far outclasses the talent levels of Navy and UAPB.
Stats of Varying Importance
- Series Record: First meeting
- Average penalty yards per game: UI - 78, TXST - 107
- F/+ Efficiency Ratings: UI - 75 (67 LW), TXST - 117 (97 LW)
- Overall Turnover Margin: UI -3, TXST +1
The good news is that Texas State has come a long way since their last game against a Big Ten opponent and has enough talent to potentially make some Illini fans uncomfortable for a few quarters in Champaign. The bad news is that without Orakpo, the Bobcats are going to have to use multiple blitz packages in order to throw some pressure at Lunt. If they can fluster him enough to force 2-3 turnovers, then the Bobcats have a shot to make this game interesting. If they can't, the Illini will put up gaudy numbers.
Tyler Jones should settle down after last week's occasionally shaky performance, and his line and receivers will need to cut their own mistakes. Robert Lowe and Terrence Franks can soften up the defense with zone read plays for future play action throws downfield. However, the entire offense will have to play with much more discipline than last week and stay on the field longer. Illinois doesn't have the defensive discipline that Navy's secondary did, so the coaches need to start taking some shots downfield and not exclusively stick to quick passes and screens/out routes like last week.
Texas State could definitely use this win to make their bowl dreams become attainable and earn respect around the Sun Belt, but they're going to have to follow these strategies: Avoid drive-killing penalties, stress the Illini secondary with vertical and horizontal passing plays, and bend but don't break a few times on defense. Given the talent disparity between the two teams, that's a lot to ask.
Illinois 41, Texas State 31