What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Jim from The Champaign Room, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Illinois.
1) So... Illinois, huh? It's been a while since we've seen you lot. We've played Northern Illinois (twice!) and Eastern Illinois since Illinois last graced an Iowa football schedule; given Iowa's affection for cupcakes in non-conference play, I'm a little surprised neither Western nor Southern Illinois has made an appearance on our schedule in that span. But I digress. Iowa and Illinois haven't played since 2008 -- what's been going on?
JIM: Man, I was in 8th grade the last time Illinois played Iowa. That's insane and the B1G schedule makers should be ashamed of themselves. Anyway: these last 6 years have been brutal for Illinois Football. The Illini have gone a combined 27-47 (10-37) since the last meeting between the two teams; however the stretch has included 2 bowl victories over Baylor and UCLA. Do you remember Ron Zook? He was fired during the 2011 season and he currently fills some sort of coaching position with the Green Bay Packers. Tim Beckman was hired as his replacement in 2012 and the team has gone a whopping 10-23 (2-19) since then.
2) What's the latest on Wes Lunt -- is he going to be in action for the Illini this Saturday? What effect will his return have on the Illinois offense?
JIM: So for those of you that don't know, Illinois QB Wes Lunt has missed the past 5 weeks (3 games) due to a fractured fibula. The coaching staff highlighted the Iowa game as potential return date and that will indeed be the case-Lunt will be starting on Saturday.
Ideally, Lunt's return will a huge effect on the offense. My only concern is for his safety. Lunt has great pocket awareness, but he's more or less a statue when he drops back to pass. Combine this with Illinois' nonexistent offensive line and he's constantly under pressure/being hit. The deciding factor of Saturday's game could very well be the O-Line's ability (or lack thereof) to keep Lunt on his feet.
3) Mike Dudek has been one of the surprises of the season thus far; what should Iowa fans know about him? Which other Illinois players should Iowa be aware of on the offensive side of the ball?
JIM: Freshman Mikey Dudek has been nothing short of spectacular--he catches everything thrown to him out of the slot. He was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list after a 200-yard effort against Purdue, but his incredible season came to a screeching halt after Lunt's injury. The offense shifted to a more of a ground attack with Reilly O'Toole taking snaps and Dudek was only being targeted a few times per game. Hopefully things revert back to normal on Saturday because he's extremely fun to watch.
Some other players to keep an eye on are Geronimo Allison (WR), Malik Turner (WR), and Josh Ferguson (RB). Allison has had a rough few games without Lunt throwing to him (are you seeing the theme here?), but at 6'4 he's a legitimate down-field threat. The same can be said to a lesser degree for freshman Malik Turner; he hasn't put up Dudek-like numbers, but he's one of Lunt's favorite targets on third down. The horrid play calling on offense has lead to a disappointing season from Josh Ferguson, but he's still one of the most underrated players in the B1G. Look for him to play a major role in the passing game as well as the ground attack.
4) Illinois ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense, and rushing defense, and is near the bottom in passing defense, so it looks like the Illini have certainly had plenty of issues on that side of the ball. What is the strength of the Illinois defense? Are there any defenders that Iowa fans should be looking out for on Saturday?
JIM: Well, Illinois' defenders are certainly well conditioned from chasing down opposing running backs. Does that count as a strength? The defense is bad and you pretty much hit the nail on the head with those statistics. Missed tackles, bad angles, blown assignments, and dumb penalties occur every game in bulk.
Player-wise, V'Angleo Bentley (CB) and Earnest Thomas III (STAR) are the guys to look out for. Bentley is slightly undersized and is susceptible to the big play, but he's one of the best return men in College Football. Thomas plays a hybrid linebacker-safety position and he's always around the ball.
5) What's the temperature of the Iowa-Illinois rivalry among the Illini faithful, considering our teams haven't played one another in over six years?
JIM: Six years is an eternity in college football and I think the rivalry between the two schools has really cooled. Of course you still have the older fans who detest Iowa, but most of the current students probably don't even remember the 2008 game. A "renewal" of the rivalry would be fantastic for the Big Ten; I think that the series could develop into one of the marquee conference match-ups. I suspect being in the same division will bring back some of that animosity down the road.
6) What's the hot seat status for Tim Beckman right now? Is he definitely returning next season? Or is there a chance that Illinois could wish him well in his future endeavors and embark on a new path next year?
JIM: Tim Beckman's hot seat status is at DEFCON 2; Illinois fans are screaming for his head. I'd say that the fan base was split on the issue entering the season, but the Purdue loss turned everyone against him. The sad thing is, I don't think a majority of the Illini faithful even realize how bad of a loss that really was--the 2-19 conference record over the past 3 seasons has just decimated expectations. Could Beckman return for a 4th season? It's possible after the team's surprising Homecoming victory over Minnesota, but it wouldn't be a popular decision. The only way it happens is if the Illini take 2/3 against Iowa, Penn State, and Northwestern. It's bowl game or bust for Tim Beckman.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
JIM: I want to believe. I want to believe that the players will come out and fight Beckman. I want to believe that Illinois could win. Sadly, I just don't see it happening.
Iowa- 34, Illinois- 24
Thanks for being a good sport, Jim, although I still hope your team
doesn't beat us loses by 50 on Saturday. You can check out the TCR crew at The Champaign Room. You can also follow Jim on Twitter at @JVainisi005 and The Champaign Room at @Champaign_Room. The Iowa-Illinois game is in Champaign, IL on Saturday, November 15, and is scheduled to start at 11:00 am CT, with television coverage from BTN.