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Tuesday, Feb. 27
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

Dynamic offense awaits skidding 2-4 Hoosiers

A missed block, a missed assignment or pouncing for the ball at the wrong time. That’s how the option can kill you.

IU was on the losing end of that formula when the Hoosiers (2-4, 0-3) played Illinois (3-3, 1-2) a year ago at the Bloomington version of Memorial Stadium. Rashard Mendenhall, quarterback Juice Williams and wide receiver Arrelious Benn thoroughly exposed the IU defense, running for 288 yards.

This time around, expect more of the same.

“They challenge you with the running game,” IU coach Bill Lynch said. “They got to us last year because they used some different blocking schemes on the outside that really gave us trouble. They force you to prepare for a lot, and that’s why they’re pretty good.”

The combination of Williams, Mendenhall and Benn proved deadly last year in a 27-14 defeat.

Mendenhall now plays on Sundays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Williams and Benn still receive national attention for their work with the Illini.

However, at first glance, the Mendenhall-deficient Illini seem to be easier to defend when they run the option. The Illini are averaging 190 yards per game on the ground – a far cry from their 257 yards per game and No. 5 national ranking in 2007 – but are still as talented as they were a year ago, said senior defensive lineman Greg Brown.

“I think they’re just as good,” Brown said. “Obviously, losing Mendenhall, that’s a big loss. As far as everything else, they’re still a good team. They read their keys well, and they do things even better than last year.”

Limiting the option takes precision from all 11 players’ defense. With several possibilities for the quarterback – pitch the ball, throw it or keep it and run – it becomes especially important for the IU front seven not to over-pursue.

Each defensive player has a specific assignment – a player to cover. One lapse in positioning, overcommitment or wrong decision, and the whole defense can fall apart.

“The option is all about assignment football,” Brown said. “If you mess up on one assignment, they’re going to beat you, because this is all about having your keys.”

What hurts the Hoosiers, though, is the development of Williams, who is now an accomplished passer in addition to his dual ability as a runner. Williams has already thrown for as many touchdowns as he did last year (13) and has an improved completion percentage (58.5 percent).

“He’s throwing the ball very accurately, making big plays and making good decisions,” Lynch said. “He’s just evolving into a very good quarterback and seems to get better all the time.”

But as touted as the Illini’s playmakers may be, junior defensive lineman Jammie Kirlew, who leads the Hoosiers with six sacks, is looking forward to playing a team that he feels is not as lethal as a year ago.

“To be honest, I don’t think they’re as great as when they had Mendenhall there,” Kirlew said. “When they had Juice, Mendenhall and Arrelious Benn, it’s like dang, you know, who are you going to stop? But they still do a good job running it.”

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