It's time for Game Week Q&A, and next up is Illinois. Brandon Birkhead from the Illinois blog The Champaign Room answered some questions about the Illini. You can see my answers to his questions here.
1. Illinois' offense has been pretty impressive this year. What are the strengths of this unit, and how are they going to attack MSU's defense?
The strength of the offense is its versatility in both formations and players. (Offensive coordinator) Bill Cubit likes to mix it up, using different formations and spreading the ball out to make the offense unpredictable. The team doesn't have the "go-to-guy", which can be a good thing in that it allow Nathan Scheelhaase to throw the ball where the coverage dictates him to.
2. On the other side, the Illini have given up plenty of points. What are the biggest problems here?
A complete lack of talent. The defensive front is very undersized, and cannot get off blocks consistently in the run game, and they really struggle getting to the QB. The secondary is very young, and has been exposed at times. The lack of a pass rush isn't helping them at all. The only bright spot of the defense is the two middle linebackers. Jonathan Brown is going to be a solid NFL player. He has great speed and plays very physical. Mason Monheim is going to be a very solid LB for Illinois if he gets more support around him.
3.What are the keys to victory for the Illini?
The keys will be to find a way to slow down the Spartan running attack, and find a way to score on the terrific defense. It's no secret that MSU's offense isn't good, but they can be physical and run the ball, which is something the Illinois defense struggles with. If they do that, they will still have to find a way to put up some points, which will be very tough.
4. In year two under Tim Beckman, Illinois has already surpassed last year's win total, and there's a good chance some more come down the road. What's the perception on Beckman's ability to turn things around now? What's the state of the program?
I give almost all credit this year to Bill Cubit. He has completely turned around the offense, which returned nine starters from a unit that was pathetic in 2012. The man is a wizard.
You have to give some credit to Tim Beckman, who has been recruiting ok, and did hire Bill Cubit. We also can't overlook how he was able to finally fix the special teams' nightmare, but Beckman is also a defensive guy, and the defense is bad, and it's actually getting worse as the season goes on. I am personally still in a wait and see more with Beckman.
5. Score prediction and why?
I think the Illini do have a chance to win this game, but I don't see it happening. The Spartans should be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides, and be able to put up some points through their running game. 30-17 Michigan State.
Thanks again to Brandon for answering some questions. Check out The Champaign Room for all things Illini.