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September 26, 2013

Illini back in action vs. RedHawks




Miami (Ohio) (0-3) at Illinois (2-1)

Sept. 28, 2013 // 11:01 a.m. CDT // BTN
Champaign, Ill. // Memorial Stadium (60,670)

Television Broadcast: Big Ten Network with an air time of 11 a.m. CT. Eric Collins (play-by-play), Chuck Long (analyst) and J Leman (reporter) will call the action.

Radio Broadcast: The 44-station Fighting Illini Radio Network will carry the radio broadcast with the pregame show beginning at 10:30 a.m. CDT. Calling the action will be Brian Barnhart (play-by-play), Kurt Kittner (analyst) and Steve Kelly (pregame/halftime/postgame). The broadcast also can be heard on line on SIRIUS (92) and XM (190) satellite radio.

Illinois players to watch: QB Nathan Scheelhaase, RB Josh Ferguson, LB Jonathan Brown, LB Mason Monheim, S Earnest Thomas, WR Ryan Lankford, DE Tim Kynard

Miami (Ohio) players to watch: CB Dayonne Nunley, WR Dawan Scott, QB Austin Boucher, DT Austin Brown, LB Kent Kern


Summary

The Fighting Illini are back in action after a bye week last Saturday. They return to Memorial Stadium for an 11am matchup against the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks of the Mid-American Conference. Illinois enters the game with a 2-1 record, while the RedHawks are 0-3 after falling to Cincinnati 14-0 a week ago.

The Illini fell to Washington 34-24 before the week off. Coach Tim Beckman said the bye week was a positive thing for the Illini, allowing them to get healthy and analyze film from the first three games.

"Had an outstanding week, to be honest with you," Beckman said. "Gave us a chance to really evaluate some of things we had been doing for the last three weeks. Evaluate our team and also get some recruiting done, so it was great for our players. We were able to get them a little rest, but we were still able to…work their minds."

The RedHawks were blown out the by Marshall and Kentucky in their first two games of the 2013 season, but the Cincinnati contest opened some eyes. Before that game last Saturday, the "W" over Miami was already in the books for fans of the Illini. It's a little more interesting now.

"I thought Miami came out and played a good football game, had their chances and opportunities to win it, made some key turnovers to keep Cincinnati out of the end zone, but just couldn't get the ball in the end zone," Beckman said. "I've known Coach Treadwell for a long time and respect what he has done at Michigan State and Miami. So you can see them in the three games, from Marshall down to Cincinnati, they have…become a much better football team."


When Illinois has the ball

Cincinnati scored just 14 points against the RedHawks last week. That's a head-shaker, even with the Bearcats playing without injured quarterback Munchie Legaux. In their two previous games vs. Marshall and Kentucky, Miami yielded 1,266 yards of offense and 93 points. Marshall torched the RedHawks with outside zone running plays and play-action passes.

Miami struggles against up-tempo offenses and mobile quarterbacks. Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase has to like what he has seen on film this week. The RedHawks will bite on play action and give up chunk plays in the passing game. Unlike against Washington, the Illinois receivers will have some space to operate in. Miami also hasn't done a very good job containing the quarterback when he's flushed from the pocket. Again, tailor made for Scheelhaase.

Scheelhaase should have time to throw - the RedHawks have just one sack in three games. That spells bad news for Miami. When given time vs. Cincinnati, the Illini senior set a personal record for passing yards. Things were tougher against the athletes from Washington, but Scheelhaase should be able to set up in the pocket and pick out targets. There just can't be missed blocking assignments from the OL or RB's like we saw vs. Washington.

The Miami second tier defenders aren't bad, led by All-MAC CB Dayonne Nunley and sophomore LB Kent Kern (11.3 tackles / game). Nunley is a lock-down corner who could play at any level. But the RedHawks will likely have to rush more than 4 to get to the QB, and they haven't shown the tendency to blitz. Up front, DT Austin Brown is a player Illinois will need to handle. Given time, expect Scheelhaase to find Ryan Lankford deep on at least one double-move type of play.

The Illini offensive line has improved, especially since the return of right guard Ted Karras. But they have yet to get a good push up front in the running game. The Illini are 11th in the Big Ten in rushing offense and are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Unlike the 7 and 8 in the box strategy Illinois has faced, Miami dropped 8 into coverage vs. Cincinnati. Running lanes should be there for Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson. And what a weapon freshman Aaron Bailey would be in this game on quarterback draws - so much space to operate. Cubit should be able to keep it simple in the running game and not rely so much on misdirection plays.

This Miami defense has given up scores on long drives and big plays. How Cincinnati struggled to score is a mystery and it makes this game that much harder to handicap.

The X-Factor: WR Ryan Lankford - he should be able to get deep.


When Miami (Ohio) has the ball

This is a game that a young Illinois defense needs. Similar to the Illini in 2012, Miami seems to be trying to put square pegs into round holes. Senior quarterback Austin Boucher is not a runner, yet he leads the team in carries (45) in the RedHawks option offense. Every team they have faced has been able to get penetration up front and stuff runs or string them out to the sideline.

Miami's top offensive weapon from a year ago, All-MAC WR Nick Harwell, transferred to Kansas after being dismissed from the school last March for an off the field incident. They do have a couple of wide receivers with good size and the ability to get deep in junior Dawan Scott and rFr Rokeem Williams

Some of the RedHawks offensive stats are mindboggling.

- 3 of 40 on 3rd down conversions (8%).
- Just 5 offensive plays of more than 20 yards on the season.
- Leading rusher Austin Gearing, who is the backup QB to Boucher, averages less than 20 ypg.
- The longest TD run of the year is by RB Spencer Treadwell at Marshall (2 yards)
- Boucher has rushed for 106 positive yards and lost 98 yards for a net of 8 total yards on the season.
- Miami has been outscored 62-0 in the second half.

You have to expect major changes from coach Treadwell. Staying the course will be disastrous for Miami. My guess is they put the ball in the air a lot more. Boucher has a decent arm and has some big targets to throw to. Treadwell and his staff have watched the film…..Illinois yields 330.3 yards per game through the air (last in the Big Ten), and have just 1 interception and 4 sacks on the season. Why not air it out and see what happens? 3-and-outs would be a killer for the RedHawks and wear down their defense, but they really have nothing to lose. The young Illini secondary will have to get the job done if Miami becomes air-Treadwell on Saturday.

What more can Tim Beckman ask from Jonathan Brown? JB is having a special season for the Illini, and he's a major mismatch for anyone on the Miami roster. He could make it a very long day for Boucher. Illinois defensive tackles Austin Teitsma and Jake Howe don't have to dominate up front against the RedHawks. All they have to do is plug their gap and let Brown, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina, safety Earnest Thomas, et al go to work.

The X-Factor: LB Jonathan Brown. Truthfully, Brown is the X-factor every week. He's playing like an All-American.


Keys to the game

1. Treat Miami like they're Alabama - Illini FB not in a position to take anyone lightly.
2. Get an early lead - RedHawks are reeling. Don't give them hope.
3. Knock the rust off - execution in game conditions a key after the bye week.
4. Ball security - Takeaways Miami's best chance to pull an upset
5. Tackling - Option play creates one-on-one's - make sure tackles.


Prediction

You can't assume this one is going to go as planned. Who expected UCONN to give Michigan a scare? But if the Illini simply execute and take care of the football, there's no reason why this should be a close game. The RedHawks are near or at the bottom of the MAC in nearly every statistical category. Miami beats the spread, but Illini cruise.

Illinois 35, Miami (Ohio) 14


Game Notes

• Illinois holds a 2-0 lead in the all-time series against Miami (Ohio), winning 20-7 in Champaign in 1932 and 45-0 in Champaign in 1941.

• Illini head coach Tim Beckman is 1-1 against Miami (Ohio) as a head coach, beating them 49-28 in 2011 when he led Toledo, and falling to the RedHawks 31-24 in 2009, his first season at UT.

• Butkus Award candidate Jonathan Brown leads the Big Ten with 38 tackles and ranks third in the nation at 12.7 tackles per game after a 15-tackle performance against Washington.

• Miami head coach Don Treadwell is in his third season at the helm of the football team and has a record of 8-19. Miami is coming off back-to-back 4-8 seasons.

• DT Teko Powell and LB Henry Dickinson are out injured for Illinois.





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