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Monday, Feb. 26
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

A Hoosier upset at Illinois? It’s possible

Go ahead. Impugn all you want. I know most of you adamantly disagree.

Vegas, USA, even your bookie might claim IU has no chance in hell.

But I think otherwise.

A Hoosier win at Illinois is possible.

The Fighting Illini (3-3, 1-2) don’t model last season’s Rose Bowl team. Not even close.

I understand some evaluators tabbed them as the conference favorite this season, but the demise in talent has hindered the program’s performance. Losing Rashard Mendenhall to the NFL was a devastating blow.

Mendenhall, who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, logged more than 2,500 yards and 22 touchdowns during his three-year tenure in Champaign. He took the pressure off quarterback Juice Williams’ shoulders, a dynamic that concocted a balanced attack of pass and run. If Mendenhall didn’t hurt the opponent, Williams would. And vice-versa.
In 2008, Williams is having to carry the Fighting Illini single-handedly. If the Hoosiers defense surmounts Illinois’ offensive line, Williams will falter.

Simply put, Bill Lynch’s defense needs to get to the quarterback.

Illinois coach Ron Zook’s club is a one-hit wonder. As Williams goes, so goes Illinois.
Wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who has 563 yards and 2 touchdowns, won’t be a threat if Williams is under pressure. This means IU defensive end Jammie Kirlew and linebacker Will Patterson must play just as well, if not better than their previous outings.

Because Mendenhall declined his final season of eligibility, Lynch doesn’t need to worry about Zook’s running attack – aside from Williams.

Daniel Dufrene, who mans the running duties for the Illini, has 478 yards and is no Mendenhall. No Illinois running backs emerged in spring practice this season, so Dufrene, as the a junior, got the spot because of seniority.

Don’t be shocked if IU pulls out the ‘W’ due to a dominant pass rush.

The absence of former Illini linebacker Jeremy Leman leaves a lot of room in the open field for IU. Whether it’s Ben Chappell or Kellen Lewis taking the snaps, expect many throws to the slot receivers, specifically Andrew Means.

Additionally, both IU quarterbacks love the screen pass to Ray Fisher as it has worked to perfection in previous bouts. Look for receivers to make their moves toward the middle of the field as huge gaps linger.

Zook shuffled his linebacking corps this off-season and his team has taken some hits as a result. Most recently, Illinois lost to Minnesota 27-20 – a game prognosticators favored for the Illini.

We all know IU could have won in Minneapolis. If the Golden Gophers competed with Illinois, so can the Hoosiers.

Lynch has prepared for the Illini game unlike any other clash this season. This week’s practices have been more authoritative than ever, where execution was expected and mistakes were forbidden.

“We went back to a preseason camp mind-set,” Lynch said. “We had more competition, rewarding winners. That’s what we needed to do to get going again.”

Don’t be caught off guard if the Hoosiers exhibit some trickery. For example, Lynch played with the Spartans’ minds by switching Chappell and Lewis at quarterback. Despite the IU loss, the new formation baffled Michigan State. Lynch said new schemes will be implemented against Illinois. And this is the perfect time to experiment as IU’s season is headed down the tubes.

Nothing is out of the realm of possibility. I’m not saying IU will definitely upset Illinois. Just don’t be surprised if they do. You never know what can happen.

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