Football

Illinois looking to climb out of Big Ten cellar with strong running, secondary

Illinois is averaging 229 yards per game on the ground in the 2018 season and already has more wins in 6 games than in the previous two seasons.

Image By: Brandon Moe and Brandon Moe

After a devastating blow of 38-13 from Michigan last weekend, Wisconsin looks to recover with a win as they prepare to face Illinois at home. The Badgers will host Illinois during homecoming weekend.

In a similar manner, however, Illinois will also be entering this matchup coming off a significant loss of 46-7 against Purdue. Although the Fighting Illini are now 3-3, they still have the potential to battle with the Badgers.

Throughout the season, the main source of power for Illinois has derived from its top running backs, junior Reggie Corbin and freshman Mike Epstein. Both players have been integral components in Illinois’ victories thus far. Corbin leads Illini with 484 rushing yards and five touchdowns, and he is likely to rush for over 1,000 yards this season.

Close behind the experienced upperclassman is new recruit Epstein, who has recorded 397 yards on the season along with three touchdowns. Alongside this dynamic duo, senior quarter AJ Bush is also a threat with his ability to read option plays and move the ball down the field efficiently, while additionally serving as Illinois’ third-leading rusher with 258 yards this season.

On the defensive end, Illinois has its strength in the secondary. Freshman defensive back Jartavius Martin leads the team with three interceptions and is tied for fourth nationally. Martin has proved to be a powerful force from the get-go, recording his first career interception in his first career game against Kent State.

During its matchup with Purdue, Illinois experienced difficulties running the ball effectively against the Boilermakers’ strong defense, which is something the Badgers will look to emulate when they play Illinois. Additionally, the Badgers will need to tighten their offense drastically if they hope to win out.

Against Michigan, junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw two interceptions and was very inaccurate, going 7-of-20 for 100 yards. Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor ran the ball well, as expected, but he could not generate much productivity on his own. 

Another aspect that contributed to the Badgers’ downfall was the holes in the defense. Starting the first half without freshman safety Scott Nelson — due to a targeting call in the previous game — Wisconsin’s defense was weakened, allowing Michigan to put up substantial points against them.

As both Wisconsin and Illinois head into the matchup looking to get back on track after both experiencing ugly losses last Saturday, the Badgers will need to get its offense going early, amp up its defense against Illinois’ running backs and try to avoid another loss on the season.

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