Normally we always try to actively involve our fellow SBNation blogs whenever we can for previews, but with the hurricane this week that became a bit trickier. A big thanks to Brandon Birkhead of TheChampaignRoom.com for the time answering our questions on short notice. I also did a Q and A with them as well that you can read here.
How did you manage to keep Western Kentucky, and former USF quarterback Mike White, under wraps last week?
The defensive line, first and foremost was excellent. The team held WKU to six rushing yards on the day, and put pressure on Mike White consistently. Illinois is also starting two true freshmen defensive ends in Bobby Roundtree and Isaiah Gay, who has been sensational so far. Neither were major recruits, and their play speaks highly of the coaching staff.
The secondary also did a great job of taking away the deep ball and keeping the ball in front of them. Everybody was phenomenal at tackling WKU and limiting their yards gain all all the underneath throws. It was Lovie Ball at its finest. Get pressure rushing four, force the short throw and tackle.
Does Mike Dudek really still have the magic after ALL THE KNEE SURGERY, or does Chayce Crouch just have nobody else to throw to?
Malik Turner is another good option in the passing attack. He is a very good deep threat, but he hasn't been called upon yet this year due to the struggles of the offensive line, and in QB Chayce Crouch not being that accurate in passing.
But Dudek still looks like he has it. He looks just as fast and quick as he did his freshman year, and the man is still playing with huge passion. It's great to have him back and healthy.
USF's offensive line seems to be their weakest unit so far. How could the Illini D-line stack up? Could we see massive havoc?
While Roundtree and Gay have been great to start the year along with the rest of the defensive line, it's tough to say exactly. The line has mainly been all sophomore and freshman, but they have been the best part for the Illini team in two games, but the two games have been against Ball State and WKU. USF is a step up in competition for them, but I would say that the Bulls should have their hands full with a talented young Illinois defensive line.
Who should USF make sure to cover offensively, and who should they attack on defense?
You have to watch out for Mike Dudek who makes plays everywhere across the field. Malik Turner can be an effective deep threat. A player to really watch out for is true freshman RB Mike Epstein. He took over the starting job after only one game from senior RB Kendrick Foster, who was actually pretty good last year. Epstein is quick, and a strong north-south runner, and USF will need to contain him.
On defense, the entire team is young, so I'm not sure if there is one particular player to look at. The secondary has given up some plays in two games. I think USF could use screens, misdirection, and play action against a young defense to test their discipline, and find some potential big plays.
This isn't a dig, we swear: You haven't had a head coach with a winning record since the late 80's. Does Illinois just not care to commit to football, and are ok with being an elite basketball program at times? And how long is Lovie's leash? Last year seems like a freebie because of Tim Beckman's fiasco end, but does he need to start showing progress this year?
Hey now! Don't short change us, John Mackovic left in 1991!
I don't think it's a matter of commitment or not caring. It's just really tough to build up a historically non-successful football program in the midwest while competing in the Big Ten and having to recruit against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and others.
Illinois has done a poor job of hiring coaches, as you point out. It's really hard to look at the candidates that would come to Illinois and look into the future to predict how they will be for you. Gary Pinkel turned around a similar level program in Mizzou, after he turned around Toledo. Tim Beckman turned around the same Toledo team years later and he may be the worst coach in the history of the Big Ten.
One bad coaching staff can hurt recruiting for years. Hiring a bunch of bad coaches in a row....well then you become like Illinois Football.
The school is starting to invest more money in athletics under new AD Josh Whitman, and they are starting to invest some more money in facilities. Time will tell if it pays off.
Prediction? And are y'all as excited as we are to play us next year at Solider Field (a trip lots of Tampanians will be making I'm sure)?
I think this game could be pretty close. It looks like it may be raining tomorrow which could hurt both offenses, but Illinois is much worse on offense. I think they will drop the game, but it won't be too crazy. 24-10 USF.
Playing at Solider Field is cool and it is great for Illinois to play games in Chicago, but Illinois has played multiple games in Solider Field over the last few years, and the excitement of playing games there is starting to wear off.