UI-Indiana: 5 keys
Can Illinois handle Indiana’s tempo?
There’s that word again, tempo. Illinois players and coaches have commented on the tempo at which the Hoosiers play on offense, which is quick, similar to Arizona State and Louisiana Tech. Illinois gave up 45 and 52 points, respectively, in those games. But the last three opponents — Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan — run a more deliberate offense, and the Illini gave up an average of 37 points per game in three losses. No matter how fast or slow the Hoosiers run plays, the Illini have to stop them.
If the Hoosiers get an early lead, is it over?
Yes and no. Illinois hasn’t shown a penchant to come from behind this season, and, if anything, confidence might be shot if the visitors get ahead early. But Indiana hasn’t been able to hang on to leads. Last week, the Hoosiers blew a 30-21 fourth-quarter lead in a one-point loss at Navy. In a loss to Michigan State, Indiana blew a 13-point second-half lead. Bottom line is, don’t fret if Indiana takes control, but don’t hold your breath for an Illini comeback.
If it comes down to kickers, who’s got the edge?
Illinois, after being spoiled with Derek Dimke the last four years, has struggled to find consistency with its field goal unit. Nick Immekus has been sidelined since Week 3 with a groin injury and was 1 for 2 on field goal attempts. His replacement, Taylor Zalewski, is 2 for 5 for the Illini, who are slight favorites. If it comes down to a field goal, Indiana’s got one of the best in the country in Mitch Ewald, whose 81.3 percentage (10 for 13) is sixth in the nation.
Who will end the skid?
Indiana has lost 11 straight Big Ten games. Illinois has dropped nine in a row. The rivals are thirsty for a conference win, so there might be more celebrating than usual for the winner after a game halfway through the conference schedule. Coaches talk all the time about winning conference games, and neither Kevin Wilson nor Tim Beckman has won a Big Ten game. Indiana has been close and might be primed to break through, while the outcome hasn’t been in doubt in any of Illinois’ three conference losses this season.
Did the week off help the Illini?
There couldn’t have been a better time for the Illini to take a week off from playing, but it hasn’t always worked out in their favor. Illinois is 11-17 all time in games after an open week and has lost nine straight games when it was off the previous week. The last time Illinois won a game with extra rest was 2002, a home game against Indiana.