It's bounce back time! Joe from Hail to the Orange was kind enough to do a quick Q&A session with us for this week's game against Illinois. The Illini fans seem to think they will be able to run on our defense this week. We'll have to wait till Saturday to see which defense shows up.
And here we go...
QBsneak12: Ron Zook has had an up and down tenure with Illinois. What is it going to take for him to keep his or, or is it already a foregone conclusion that he is going to get fired at the end of the season?
HTTO: I have always kind of figured that this season would have to be as bad or worse than last years to prompt a change at the top. If Guenther was going to get rid of Zook, last year would have been a much better opportunity to do so than this year. The University is still struggling with the state budget crisis (I think about 20% of the annual operating budget is provided by the state of Illinois, and it hasn't gotten that funding for 3 years now) and it would take a lot of funding from alumni to make a move. Given that the team is at least showing some signs of hope with the new coordinators, I think it is too early to say what Zook's future will be.
QBsneak12: What is the identity of this Illini offense? Nate Scheelhaase seems to be an outstanding runner that is still developing his passing skills. Is he the right guy to lead the Illini out of the Big Ten basement?
HTTO: I like him, because skill sets aside, he loves being a quarterback, he loves to carry the responsibility of an entire team and he loves taking chances. He has embraced his role in a way that I never saw from Juice (Williams). Like a lot of other people here in Campaign, I am waiting for his passing to improve, but I think he is improving. He is making smarter decisions at the very least than he did week 1, and if he can get some more time from his offensive line, I think we will get to see whether or not he can operate this offense how it is intended.
QBsneak12: Eddie McGee has been around the program a long time and saw plenty of time at QB during the up and down Juice Williams era. Why did the coaches decide to give Sheelhaase the keys to the offense and not the 5th year senior McGee?
HTTO: He kind of lost a lot of favor last year, when he played outright awful in the chances he got to spell Juice. This year there was talk that he would be the primary backup and if things got rough he would take over as the starter. In the SIU game, Eddie was in for four series. He made one completion, two interceptions, and then got a high ankle sprain. Eddie is pretty much a confirmed WR now.
QBsneak12: Illinois surprised everybody last week when they kept the Ohio State game competitive. Is the defense the bigest strength for this Illini team?
HTTO: I would say that running the ball is the biggest strength, but running against the d-line of Ohio State every running game looks a little worse than it is. I am really happy with the defense so far this season, especially from the defensive line and linebackers. Martez Wilson and Ian Thomas are playing really really well right now, have been key to keeping the running backs from NIU and OSU contained.
QBsneak12: Who is a player to watch out for on Saturday?
HTTO: Martez Wilson has been slowly working his way back up to top shape after two straight years of injury. He along with Clay Nurse and Whitney Mercilus are the reason we are getting pressure on QB's this year.
QBsneak12: Mikel Leshoure is averaging over 6 yards a carry this season. Do you think he can have success against a Penn State defense that has struggled all year against the run?
HTTO: Yes, Mikel is attacking gaps really well this year, if he can find just a litle bit of space he can explode. I fully expect him to get at least 25 carries again on Saturday.
QBsneak12: What is a weakness on the Illini defense you think Penn State might have a chance of exposing?
HTTO: The weakest link is still the secondary, even with Terry Hawthorne back, there will still be a lot of players either new to the team or playing out of their natural position, even with the INT threats of Trulon Henry and Hawthorne, the other safety and the other CB are a concern.
QBsneak12: Penn State has struggled in the 1st quarter defensively all year and Illinios seems to do well, scoring 31 points to this point. Is it vital for the Illini to jump on Penn State early and force Robert Bolden to win it with his arm?
HTTO: Yes, the illini have been mostly successful early in the games this year because, at least I think, Paul Petrino has been scripting plays for young Nathan Sheelaase to practice over and over again leading up to the game, but has fallen off in the second half as plays with less familiarity are called for the offense. The Illini defense has shown it has had problems stopping big running plays from QB's (see NIU's Harnish, and the two long runs from Pryor) so anything that makes Bolden running the ball less likely will be a plus for this Illini team.
QBsneak12: Are you satisfied with the way the Big Ten divisions have been split?
HTTO: More or less, although I am a bit disappointed we won't be playing Iowa all that often anymore. This Iowa game has always mattered a great deal more to me than the Northwestern game ever has.
QBsneak12: What are your three keys to the game?
- Mikel LeShoure running the ball against Penn State's linebackers, which I've been told are not up to PSU snuff this year.
- The PSU passing offense against our DB's. Terry Hawthorne should be back, and if the rest of the backfield can continue to improve, our biggest defensive weakness could be much less vulnerable.
- Penalties, the Illini have absolutely killed themselves the last two games by committing penalties at the absolute worst of times, it allowed OSU to convert on two scoring drives last Saturday. If the Illlini can stop grabbing people's face masks, the defense's job will be much easier.
QBsneak12: How do you see things playing out on Saturday?
HTTO: I don't know yet, I think a lot has to do with how each team reacts to their respective losses this week, I think we will know after each team has a possession and gets things going.
Thanks again to Joe from Hail to the Orange. Also, be sure to check out Part II of the Q&A over at Hail to the Orange. I doubt it is going to be as easy to run on our defense as HTTO thinks (they are no Alabama or Iowa), so the notion that they will be able to run all of our linebackers is comical.
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