The Fighting Illini travel to Bloomington on Saturday to take on Indiana in a battle of 3-5 teams. Orange and Blue News caught up with Matt Weaver from Peegs.com to get the inside scoop on the Hoosiers.
First things first…. Talk about this high-powered Hoosiers offense (second in the Big Ten in scoring and total offense). What makes them so explosive, and who are the key players for Illinois fans to keep an eye on?
Matt Weaver: The first thing you will notice about the IU offense is how quickly they play. After a play is run they sometimes will run up to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball just a few seconds after it has been spotted. They don't do that all the time, but they will at times if they are in a good rhythm and have the defense on their heels.
What makes them so explosive is the skill players. There is a great deal of talent at receiver, tight end and running back. Add that to the fact that they have two quality quarterbacks and an offensive line that has done a solid job despite a rash of injuries and you have an offense that is able to put up a lot of points on a weekly basis.
The key players at receiver are Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn. Latimer and Hughes are big, physical wideouts that are very good at making big plays down the field whether they are well covered or not. Latimer is especially a tough match-up because he has good size at 6'3, 215 to go along with good speed. He is really have a nice year and he is the guy IU looks to most of the time when they need a big play. Hughes may not be quite the athlete that Latimer is but he is still pretty athletic and he has a real knack for making circus catches against tight coverage. Wynn is a smaller guy but he is very fast and very elusive and IU tries to get the ball in his hands as much as they can in space. There are very few defenders that can tackle him one-on-one because of his ability to make people miss.
Another pass-catcher to keep an eye on is tight end Ted Bolser. He is more of a receiver than a tight end but he can be a match-up issue because he is stronger than most defensive backs and he is faster than most linebackers. He is also a very good target for IU when they get down inside the 10 because he is such a tough guy for defenses to cover.
At running back the top guy is sophomore Tevin Coleman. He is having a very good year for the Hoosiers. He is another big weapon for IU that can run really well. I think people are fooled by his size because he has made several long runs this year where it looked like a defender had the angle and he still was able to beat them. If IU can get him going on the ground it usually means good things for the offense. Backing him up is Stephen Houston. Houston was the starter at running back the last two seasons but lost his job to Coleman coming out of spring ball. He is a powerful back that has pretty good speed. Both guys had big games last Saturday against Minnesota and both are capable for going for over 100 yards every week.
Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson have both been getting reps for the Hoosiers. What do they bring to the quarterback position for Indiana?
Matt Weaver: Sudfeld is the pocket-passer as he has a very strong arm and is very effective when he has time to go through his progressions and find the open man. He isn't going to beat many teams with his legs, but he also isn't a statue back there. If he is forced to run he can be effective in picking up some yards on the ground. Roberson is the dual-threat guy that is really good at making plays with his legs but he can also beat teams with his arm. He isn't the passer that Sudfeld is, but he can still be dangerous throwing the ball at times.
Roberson got the start last week against Minnesota and the offense really struggled because they couldn't get the running game going and he was not throwing the ball very well at all. They put Sudfeld in for the second half and the offense went on 26-0 run to take the lead late. A few weeks before that at Michigan Sudfeld was the starter and he while made some nice plays it was Roberson that was the better quarterback that day and he got most of the snaps.
The IU coaches say the offense is the same regardless of who is back there and while that is true to an extent there are still some difference in what they run. With Sudfeld it is much more of a passing offense. He is a very good throwing quarterback and when he is in they are going to spread the field and let him get the ball out to the IU skill players. With Roberson there is more read-option plays and more running type plays because they want to take advantage of his ability to make plays with his legs.
With both defenses struggling, this game looks like it will be a shootout. What's your over / under on the point total? Playing Devil's Advocate, what are some reasons to think it could be under 80?
Matt Weaver: I would think this game probably gets into high 60s or low to mid 70s at the very least. I will put my point total at 75. I guess if the weather is not very good that could hurt scoring. IU is a passing offense and if there are poor conditions that could have an effect on their ability to throw the ball. If the teams have to settle for field goals when they get down to the red zone instead of touchdowns that could keep the score lower than expected. The other way I could see the scoring not being as high as many are predicting is if both teams are really effective at running the ball and which leads to less passing from both offenses and there are fewer big plays and the clock does not stop very much which means a quicker game with a lower total.
Quite honestly I really feel like I am reaching here for reasons why this game might stay in the 40s or lower because I just don't see it happening. IU is averaging 40+ points a game and their defense has not shown the ability to slow many teams down. Illinois has the kind of quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase that Indiana has really struggled with so I think both teams will be able to move the ball and put up some points.
Both teams come into this game at 3-5 and needing a win to keep any hope of a bowl appearance alive. How do you assess the progress that Kevin Wilson has made with the IU program since he arrived in Bloomington?
Matt Weaver: I think Coach Wilson and his staff have definitely improved the program. A lot of fans are very disappointed because with 8 home games this looked like the year IU could get back to a bowl game, but after very disappointing losses to Navy and Minnesota at home they need to win three of their last four to be bowl eligible and two of those games are at Wisconsin and at Ohio State so it will be very difficult for IU to get to 6 wins.
There is no doubt the IU offense is one of the best in the Big Ten and with a ton of guys returning for the next few years that shouldn't change, but the issue is the defense which has been the issue at IU for a long time. What is so discouraging for IU fans is they don't need a Michigan State defense to win games, they just need an average one. The defense is giving up just under 40 points a game and if they could get that down to high 20s to low 30s, which still isn't great, they would be 5-3 or 6-2 instead of 3-5. Before the season my prediction for IU was 7-5 and I said the only reason they won't make that is if the defense does not improve and that has been the case. A team averaging over 500 yards of total offense and 42 points a game really should not be 3-5 on the season, but that's the case for IU and a lot of blame is on the defense for that.
What kind of scheme does defensive coordinator Doug Mallory run, and who are some players he will expect to make some plays this week against Illinois? What do the Hoosiers need to do defensively to turn things around these last four games?
Matt Weaver: IU runs a 4-3 defense most of the time but against certain teams they will run a 4-2-5 with a nickel defensive back instead of a third linebacker.
On the defensive line the top guys are Bobby Richardson, Nick Mangieri, Ralph Green and John Laihinen. Mangieri and Laihinen are tied for the team lead in tackles for loss and Laihinen is the team leader in sacks. Richardson is second on the team in tackles for loss and he is the leading tackler when it comes to the defensive linemen. This is a group that has struggled all year against the run and struggled to get any kind of a consistent pass rush.
At linebacker the top names are David Cooper, Forisse Hardin and T.J. Simmons. Cooper is tied for the team lead in tackles with 60 while Simmons and Hardin are not far behind with 57 and 54 respectively. Simmons is a true freshman and he has done a solid job but he has also looked like an inexperienced player at times. When you struggles to stop the run it is not all on the defensive line and that is the case at Indiana. The linebackers have also had a hand in the issues the Hoosiers have had on defense because many times they seem to be out of position and that allows for big plays by the opposing offense.
In the defensive backfield the top guy at corner is Tim Bennett and the name to know at safety is Greg Heban. Bennett leads the Big Ten in passes defended with 19 and in his first year of playing corner he has been pretty solid. He has gotten burned and has given up some big plays, but he plays aggressive and doesn't back down even after giving up a big play. Heban is the leader of the secondary and he is tied for the team lead in tackles with Cooper. The good news is he has made a lot of tackle and the bad news is he has made a lot of tackles. When a safety is leading your defense in tackles that says all you need to know about the defense as a whole. It means there are a lot of plays downfield and the safeties are making tackles because there has been a big play and they are the last line of defense.
I am not sure there is much IU can do these last four weeks to turn things around because at this point in the season you are who you are in my opinion. I think the best they can hope for is to try and force a few more turnovers when they have the chance to do so. Any improvement is most likely not going to happen until next season after you have an off-season to evaluate what changes need to be made in personnel and with the scheme. On Saturday IU has to contain Scheelhaase and not allow him to kill them with big runs when he isn't able to find someone open in the passing game. They also need to do make the Illini one-dimensional and not allow their running game to really get going.
How do you expect this game to play out Saturday afternoon, and what is your prediction for a final score?
Matt Weaver: I know it is dangerous to just look at stats because they can sometimes not tell the whole story but when you compare these two teams they are very similar on defense and on special teams, but the difference is the Indiana offense has been a little better at both throwing the ball and running it and in putting up points. I think that is the difference on Saturday. I think both teams will have a good deal of success on offense but I think the Indiana offense will make a few more plays and I think that is the difference in the end with the Hoosiers winning 41-34.