As October nears its end, the Hoosiers are in roughly the same place they were at the end of September. The Hoosiers are improved, are very good offensively, and have been competitive in every game, but have lost them all. IU, now 0-3 in the Big Ten and 2-5 overall, travels to Champaign to play a team that is struggling even more, the Illinois Fighting Illini. While IU has been close in its losses, the Illini have not. Illinois has lost its three Big Ten games by 28, 17, and 45 points. IU hasn't won since week two. Illinois hasn't won since week three and hasn't been competitive with a FBS program since beating Western Michigan in the opener. As you may have noted from the Q&A linked above, new coach Tim Beckman hasn't exactly won over the Illini fans yet, and there are reports of dissension within the staff. In all, it's not a pretty scene there.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is in his third year as a starter, but as Tom noted in the Q&A, has been outpaced by backup Reilly O'Toole, who has played when Scheelhaase has been injured. On the season, Scheelhaase has completed 60 percent of his passes and has thrown 3 TDs to 5 inteceptions. O'Toole, on the other hand, is completing 74 percent of his passes and has thrown 6 TDs to 3 interceptions. The Illini don't seem to have found a top running back at this point. Donnovon Young leads the way with 276 yards and 2 TDs but only 3.7 yards per carry. Josh Ferguson has 210 yards and 0 TDS and 4 YPC. Scheelhaase is the only other Illini with more than 100 yards on the season. The top receiver has been Ryan Lankford with 366 yards and 5 TDs. This is the #112 offense in FBS, so it's tough to find standouts.
The defense, ranked #53 nationally, is the Illini's best hope. Despite a decent overall ranking, the Illinois defense doesn't really leap off the page in terms of sacks, interceptions, or tackles for loss. They simply seem to be solid. Tom of TCR credits LB Ashante Williams, who leads Illinois in tackles, as being the glue of the defense. LB Jonathan Brown has 6.5 tackles for loss.
This is a strange game. On paper, I feel like IU should hammer these guys. Vegas, however, has the Illini modestly favored. I'm sure this is in part because of Illinois's talent, in part because it's at Illinois, and in part because of IU's failure to close out any close games in the past two seasons. Does anyone think IU wouldn't be favored if the nine-point fourth quarter lead had not stuck? I really want to believe that this game is IU's chance. But I'm sufficiently beaten down by the Navy loss that I can't believe yet. I hope I am wrong, but ...Illinois 35, Indiana 21.