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Iowa Football Opponent Preview: Illinois Fighting Illini

It’s homecoming week!

Iowa v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Following last week’s loss to Michigan State, the Hawkeyes have quite the hill to climb if they hope to stay competitive in the Big Ten West.

With that said, this week the Hawkeyes are set to take on the Fighting Illini of Illinois. So, without further ado, let’s take an in-depth look at the Illini.

Struggles On Offense

So far this season, the Illini have really struggled to find any kind of consistency on offense, and it’s reflected on that stat sheet, as they currently rank 126th in total offense, 113th in passing offense, 112th in rushing offense, and 114th in scoring offense.

This Saturday — following a 2-2 start to the season — the Illini coaching staff has decided that it is the right time to make a change at the quarterback position, so instead of seeing season-long starter Chayce Crouch this weekend, the Hawkeyes will face former starter Jeff George Jr. who is much more of a pocket passer than Crouch. In limited action last season, George struggled mightily in an offense that, much like this season, really struggled to find its footing.

With all that said, Illinois does have a few impressive playmakers at receiver in junior Mike Dudek, senior Malik Turner, and freshman Ricky Smalling.

Coming in at 5’11”, 185-pounds, Dudek is a guy — when healthy — that the Illini love to get involved in many different ways, whether it be lining up on the outside, in the slot, on return duties, or on end-arounds. With that said, Dudek over the years just hasn’t been available due to health complications, which has really stunted this offenses growth, as he can be a really impressive playmaker when healthy and involved.

With Turner, we’re looking at a guy who measures in at 6’2”, 205-pounds and displays impressive athleticism and potential for big play ability; look for him to possibly break a big play on Saturday.

In addition to Illinois’ playmakers at receiver, freshman running back Mike Epstein is also a player to keep an eye out for.

As I mentioned earlier, Illinois’ running game this season has been beyond lackluster. However, Epstein certainly hasn’t been the issue, as he’s averaged over five yards per carry and has even contributed a fair amount in the passing game as well. Relative to other running backs the Hawkeyes have faced so far this season, Epstein isn’t exactly one of the top guys, but he’s still more than capable of breaking off a big play and doing some damage on Saturday.

Susceptible On Defense

Much like on offense, the Illini also have also struggled mightily on defense this season, as they currently rank 98th in total defense, 94th in passing yards allowed, and 91st in rushing defense.

In the last two games, the Illini defense has basically been a punching bag for opposing offenses, as they gave up a staggering 680 total yards to South Florida and 411 total yards to Nebraska; certainly not ideal.

At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be any real quick fix or week-to-week solution, as it goes beyond simply personnel.

Heading into this Saturday, the Illini defense will simply look to stay competitive and try to force timely turnovers in order to keep their team in the game. With that said, you should realistically expect them to give up quite a bit of yards and points to the Hawkeyes this weekend.

What To Expect

When you take a close look at the Illini as a whole, they really have no business competing in this weekend’s contest, as they present the Hawkeyes with one of the worst offenses and defenses in the Big Ten.

With that said, I expect the Hawkeyes to come out on Saturday and take care of business and, hopefully, get the offense — more specifically the running game — back on track.