Illinois Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Louisiana Tech
The Illini rolled over Charleston Southern on Saturday, winning 44-0 in a snoozer.
Illinois quarterback Reilly O'Toole, who started in place of the injured Nathan Scheelhaase, threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns against the Buccaneers defense—though there wasn't much opposition.
It was a nice feel-good win for Tim Beckman's squad after getting manhandled by Arizona State the previous week, but don't read too much into a victory against a Buccaneers team that has lost 15 straight games dating back to 2010.
The Illini will face a much tougher test this weekend against Louisiana Tech (2-0), who had an impressive eight-win season in 2011 before losing to TCU by a touchdown in the Poinsettia Bowl.
The Bulldogs sport an explosive offense (56 points per game) this season, led by senior quarterback Colby Cameron, who has thrown for 629 yards and seven touchdowns in two games.
Here are five keys to the Illini winning their third game of the season against Louisiana Tech.
Put Pressure on Cameron
With two Illinois defensive linemen selected in the first round of the NFL Draft the past two years, the Illini pass rush has become a staple of the program.
Senior defensive end Michael Buchanan has the potential to play on Sundays, but the Illini have struggled to get after the passer so far this season (four sacks). Last year, the "Orange and Blue" registered 41 sacks, which tied for sixth in the nation.
Failing to pressure opposing quarterbacks is a recipe disaster, which was the case against Arizona State, as the Illini totaled only one sack. As a result, Sun Devils quarterbacks picked apart the defense, going 23-of-28 for 318 yards and three touchdowns.
If given too much time, Cameron has the arm and the weapons to lead the nation's third highest scoring offense to victory at Memorial Stadium.
Improved Play in the Secondary
Aside from a lack of pressure, poor coverage from the Illini secondary was another reason for the debacle in the desert.
Illinois has been vulnerable against spread-passing attacks in recent history—exemplified by their disappointing showings against their arch rival, Missouri. The Bulldogs sport a similar pass-heavy assault, making the play of cornerback Terry Hawthorne and others crucial to the Illini's success.
Illinois held Charleston Southern quarterbacks to 5-of-17 passing for 29 yards, but those numbers tell no more than the stats of the Illini scout-team offense.
Louisiana Tech returns their leading receiver from last season, Quinton Patton, who had more than 1,200 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011.
For the Illini to be victorious against the Bulldogs, the secondary will need to tighten up their coverage and capitalize on turnover opportunities. Otherwise, they will be in for a dog fight in Champaign.
Find Tevin King
Standing at only 5'7", Bulldogs freshman running back Tevin King is easy for defenses to miss.
His lightning-fast speed also aides the cause, as King has totaled 316 yards and three touchdowns in Louisiana Tech's first two contests.
King has the ability to make defenses pay when they focus too heavily on the Bulldogs' explosive passing attack. Containing the freshman ball-carrier will be a major key for the Illini, as it would help them make the Bulldogs one-dimensional.
Spotting King over the offensive line may be a challenge, but losing track of him on any given down could be deadly.
Establish a Running Game
No matter who is under center for the Illini on Saturday, kick-starting the running game will be highly important for the effectiveness of the Illinois offense.
With the two-headed monster of running backs Donovan Young and Josh Ferguson, the Illini have the pieces in place to rack up yards in bunches. Despite the anemic passing attack against Arizona State, Ferguson was a bright spot for the Illini, running for 101 yards on 14 carries.
Ferguson's status for this Saturday is uncertain after missing last week's contest due to a concussion.
Nevertheless, with the efforts of Young, and possibly a healthy Scheelhaase, the Illini have what it takes to do damage against a Bulldogs defense that gave up more than 270 yards and three touchdowns on the ground against Rice last week.
This will be a vital aspect of the game, determining whether the Illini can sustain drives and keep the Louisiana Tech offense on the sideline.
Figure Out the Quarterback Position
Regardless of O'Toole's flashy performance against a high school-caliber defense last week, if Scheelhaase's injured ankle is a full strength, he will lead the Illini offense on Saturday.
Scheelhaase was a game-time decision against the Sun Devils, but was held out because of limited mobility. He probably could have played last week if needed, but Coach Beckman could have picked a quarterback from the stands and still come out with a victory.
With his experience as a third-year starter and dual-threat ability, Scheelhaase makes the Illini offense an entirely different unit when he's on the field. O'Toole could be a nice mid-game changeup for the Illini, however, as he is a better pure passer than Scheelhaase.
The Bulldogs' defense has been exposed against the pass this season, giving up 580 yards and four touchdowns through the air against Houston in Week 1. Expect the Illini aerial attack to also have success against them, though, they won't be throwing it more than 70 times like the Cougars did.
Nevertheless, Beckman will need to decide how he wants to utilize his two quarterbacks as they attempt to attack a vulnerable secondary. The Illini must execute with precision, as this game has the makings of an old-fashion shootout.