DONOVONN YOUNG, RB
The Texan hasn’t topped 100 yards in his last six games. Seeing Young shed tackles, drag tacklers and create a complement to the Illinois passing game Saturday would provide Tim Beckman with a welcome sight.
Young helped put Cincinnati away with a strong fourth quarter, where he picked up the majority of his 64 yards on 14 carries. With Washington’s defense focusing largely on shutting down Nathan Scheelhaase, Young could find himself with more running lanes.
“It’s not necessarily just me,” Young said. “If I run the ball, I need 10 other guys working with me to get yards.”
Washington showed it was a bit susceptible to the run against Boise State, with Broncos running back Jay Ajayi gaining 93 yards on 23 carries.
“They’re really athletic,” Young said. “They’re a solid defense, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. They kind of remind me of UCLA a couple years ago when we played them in the bowl game. That’s who they mostly resemble to me.”
RYAN LANKFORD, WR
If Illinois needs a big play, chances are the senior will hear his number called. The speedster didn’t post the reception totals against Cincinnati like he did against Southern Illinois. But he had a 29-yard touchdown run off a reverse and finished with a career-best 46 rushing yards on three carries.
“He might have played a better game (against Cincinnati) than he did (against SIU),” offensive coordinator Bill Cubit said, “because of all the little things he did.”
MASON MONHEIM, LB
Pass coverage isn’t Monheim’s greatest strength. His ability to get in the backfield and disrupt plays at the line of scrimmage is his best attribute so far. Washington will test him, along with the rest of Illinois’ linebackers, based on the Huskies’ personnel.
“With all of us, it’s the speed, it’s the communication, it’s getting people lined up,” UI coach Tim Beckman said. “They’ve got a lot of guys back, so the offense was really clicking against Boise. Those linebackers are very crucial. Not just Mason, but with Jonathan (Brown), too, in getting the front ready, getting the call in and getting everybody lined up ready to play.”
Illinois inside linebackers coach Mike Ward said Monheim’s increased strength from his true freshman season has benefited the sophomore, who had 10 tackles against Cincinnati.
“The weight that he’s put on, he’s able to defeat blocks a lot better than he was a year ago,” Ward said. “A year ago, it was, if he’s going to get blocked, he’s going to get blocked, and his tackles were kind of the type where you hang on and make them. Now I think you’re seeing a bigger, more physical kid that obviously understands the game. We’re putting a little bit more in his hands week by week.”
KEITH PRICE, QB
Jake Locker. Cody Pickett. Marques Tuiasosopo. The Huard brothers in Brock and Damon. Mark Brunell. Chris Chandler. The Huskies have had numerous quarterbacks in the last 25 years shine not only at Washington but go on to play in the NFL. The Compton, Calif., native is probably the next one. Price shows an uncanny accuracy unlike any of the other QBs mentioned above. Having Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, the former USC offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who was quite the passer during his playing career at BYU, tutor Price has paid dividends.
“(Price) is as good as advertised,” Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks said.
Strong safety Earnest Thomas agreed.
“He’s a solid quarterback,” Thomas said. “Just from watching film of him, which I’ve seen a lot of, he’s improved a lot from last year to this year. He seems a little more comfortable. It’s going to take a team effort to be able to slow him down and stop him, but it’s something that we’re up for the challenge.”
BISHOP SANKEY, RB
Getting to the 100-yard mark is a common sight for the junior from Spokane. His 161 yards on 25 carries against Boise State marked the eighth time in 26 games Sankey has played at Washington that he eclipsed that mark — and the fifth time in his last six games. He isn’t a stranger to the end zone, either. He rushed for two touchdowns against Boise State and had 16 last year, second most in school history. Gulp. Illinois hasn’t seen a running back of Sankey’s capabilities yet this year.
“Big. Physical. Proven. Been there,” Beckman said. “Those are four pretty good adjectives. He’s been involved in that program, and Coach Sark’s brought him in there. He’s done a fabulous job. He’s a good back.”
JOHN TIMU, LB
Washington isn’t all about offense. Timu makes sure of that. The Huskies’ biggest playmaker against Boise State with 13 tackles captained Steve Sarkisian’s team last year. As a sophomore. Shows how much respect his teammates and coaches have for the Long Beach, Calif., native, who was a quarterback and safety in high school before becoming Washington’s go-to defender. Washington gave up 346 yards of total offense to Boise State, but the Broncos ran 88 plays in the first game where Boise State did not score a touchdown since a 1997 shutout loss to Washington State. Pretty impressive.
“They’ve got good speed at their linebackers, and those guys have played a lot of football,” Beckman said. “What they have is they have a bunch of guys that have played together, and they’ve built that program with those guys.”