Arizona State Football: 5 Keys to Game Against Illinois
Arizona State's glorified practice against Northern Arizona is over and the Sun Devils welcome Illinois to the desert in a measuring-stick game for both teams. There are five big keys to watch in the ASU-Illini late-night contest.
Kickoff for this Pac-12, Big 10 contest is slated for 10:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Both teams are coming off wins in Week 1. ASU dominated FCS-level Northern Arizona 63-6. Illinois beat Western Michigan 24-7.
This is one of three contests that pit the Pac-12 against Big-10 teams. Nebraska travels to UCLA and Wisconsin travels to Oregon State.
If UCLA pulls an upset of Nebraska, the ASU and Illinois contest could decide conference bragging rights for the year.
ASU will need to play with a similar level of poise against the Illini in order to knock off a potentially hobbled Big-10 team.
Arizona State scored just 14 points in the first quarter against NAU. They erupted for 28 in the second quarter and were on cruise control for the rest of the game.
The Sun Devils have the firepower to beat Illinois, but can’t afford to come out of the gates slow and give the Illini any confidence.
With QB Nathan Scheelhaase in less-than-perfect condition due to an ankle injury, the Devils need to apply pressure early and often on both sides of the ball.
A substantial early lead could put Illinois in self-defense mode trying to get their best assets healthy for the upcoming Big 10 season.
The Ground Game
Again, Scheelhasse’s injury could force Illinois to focus more on its rushing attack. That rushing attack will need to improve.
In Week 1 against Western Michigan, Illinois rushed 41 times for 115 yards, averaging 2.9 yards per carry.
ASU’s run defense is better than WMU’s.
The Illini will need to control the ball and the clock on the ground to take some pressure off Scheelhasse’s ankle―and his shoulder.
ASU used a three-headed rushing attack to run over the Lumberjacks. Junior RB Marion Grice went for 107 yards on 14 carries. Freshman RB D.J. Foster went for 67 yards on eight carries. Starting RB, senior Cameron Marshall, rushed for just 14 yards on nine carries.
The Sun Devils imposed their will on the ground, rushing for seven touchdowns. Illinois will provide a little bit more resistance, but the rushing attack will still need to be successful for ASU.
Illinois gave up negative six yards on the ground against Western Michigan.
Taylor Kelly's First Test
ASU sophomore QB Taylor Kelly has his first real test as a starter this weekend. In his first career start against NAU, Kelly went 15-for-19 for 247 yards and a score.
The Illini have a better defense, but got gashed by WMU in Week 1. WMU’s senior QB Alex Carder threw for 239 of the team’s 265 passing yards and a score.
Illinois also forced three interceptions and seven punts.
Kelly will need to continue to be efficient with his passes and not give Illinois any short-field opportunities. With an injured QB, the Illini will be looking for a short field and any cheap points they can get.
Watch out for Ashante Williams. He returned an interception for touchdown against WMU.
Scheelhaase is a talented QB, even when hobbled.
The Illini have talented receivers in juniors Ryan Lankford and Spencer Harris. They also have talented backs that can catch passes.
They all compliment an emerging star in sophomore TE Jon Davis. Davis is 6’3” and 240 lbs. He led the Illini in rushing against Western Michigan last week and caught 22 passes last season as a freshman.
The ASU secondary can’t give up big plays by letting the Illini skill players behind them.
Pressure on Scheelhaase can help eliminate the deep threat.
Last season these two teams met in a nail-biter with Illinois coming out on top 17-14.
The Devils should be without safety Laiu Moeakiola, defensive tackle Corey Adams and punter Josh Hubner.
The Illini are fairly healthy, with the exception of Scheelhaase.
This game could come down to the final drive in a very hot desert. The late-night kickoff will help Illinois, but conditioning will be crucial for both teams down the stretch.
ASU is favored by four points and could have to hold off a last-minute Illini drive to secure the win.
This should be a good one in the desert Saturday.