Indiana’s explosive offense could ruin Illinois’ homecoming
BY HERB GOULD email@example.com October 26, 2012 11:26PM
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The facts: 11 a.m., BTN, 560-AM.
Updated: November 28, 2012 6:14AM
If Illinois is ever going to follow coach Tim Beckman’s advice to ‘‘own the day’’ this fall, Saturday looks like its best chance.
Indiana, which might be the weakest Big Ten team that doesn’t wear orange and blue, is coming to Champaign. It’s homecoming. And the Illini have had a week off to heal up and regroup.
Those sure sound like the ingredients to end this year’s five-game losing streak against major-college teams and a nine-game Big Ten losing streak that dates to Illinois’ last meeting with Indiana, a 41-20 win on Oct. 8, 2011, that gave Illinois a 6-0 start before the bottom dropped out.
The only problem is, the Hoosiers are looking explosive on offense, and the Illini have been self-destructive everywhere.
‘‘They do a great job with the pace, getting up to the line of scrimmage,’’ Illini linebacker Jonathan Brown said. ‘‘That’s how they get most of their big plays, catching defenses napping and taking a shot downfield.’’
With players such as Brown, a Butkus Award semifinalist who has been playing on a sprained ankle, and cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who missed Illinois’ last game with a concussion, rested and ready, the Illini consider themselves up for the challenge.
‘‘Nobody’s been playing to their potential, including myself,’’ defensive end Michael Buchanan said. ‘‘We have a surplus of talent on this team and great coaches. We have great potential. We’ve just been beating ourselves. That’s something we have to change.’’
While Indiana’s offense is third in Big Ten scoring (34.7 ppg), its defense is last in points allowed (31.7), just behind Illinois (30.7). The burden could be on Illinois’ offense, which is last in Big Ten scoring (18.1), to rise.
That could be the biggest challenge for a team that has scored only 21 points in its first three Big Ten games.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said the sprained ankle that sidelined him for two games and limited him in others ‘‘made us get away from the things we’re good at.’’
Now that he has recovered from the ankle and a concussion, ‘‘We’re getting back to more of what we did early on, which is exciting. We have athletes who can make plays when we put them in good positions.’’
In other words, the threat of Scheelhaase tucking the ball and running, which was absent for a while, could open up things for his receivers and running backs.
The question is, is the bigger key for Illinois to execute better physically or to find the confidence to fight through adversity mentally?
‘‘I think a little bit of both,’’ Beckman said. ‘‘Mentally, our team has to focus and realize it’s been a year [since our last Big Ten win]. We’ve got to get through that belief or whatever it is and play 60 minutes of football.’’