Going into the season, most fans shrugged at the matchup against an Illinois Illini team that went just 2-10 last season. Now that the Illini are off to a 2-0 start, coming off of a blowout victory against the Cincinatti Bearcats, Illinois suddenly looks like a scary matchup for the Huskies. Here are some keys to the game that would help propel the Huskies to a win and a 2-0 start.
Pressure the quarterback: If Illinois has shown anything in their first two games, it’s that it relies a lot on the right arm of fifth-year senior quarterback Nate Scheelhaase. In his first two games, Scheelhaase has thrown for 728 yards and six touchdowns. While the Ilinni aren’t afraid to use the ground game, it’s apparent that their offense operates through the air first. Due to the mobility of Joe Southwick as well as Boise State’s quick pass offense, the Huskies were unable to record a sack in the first game. In order to keep Scheelhaase from having a field day, the Huskies will have to put pressure on the senior signal caller and bring him to the ground. If they can’t put pressure on Scheelhaase with four rushers, the Huskies need to look to blitz and rely on Marcus Peters and the rest of the secondary to hold their own one-on-one. Look for rush ends Cory Littleton and Josh Shirley to step up and put some pressure on Scheelhaase.
Push the Pace: The addition of the up-tempo, no-huddle offense was probably what excited the fans the most after the first game against Boise State. It is apparent that this is the most talented team in the Steve Sarkisian era, and the new up-tempo offense allows more of that talent to see the field. Multiple skill positions players saw action against Boise State, and they will see more time as the season goes on. UW is clearly more talented than Illinois, and if they are able to get into the no-huddle and keep the Illini defense on the field, the Huskies will be able to use their multiple playmakers to their advantage. Look for Jaydon Mickens to continue his hot streak, as well as John Ross in the slot.
Wear them down: After watching the Boise State game, I was most impressed about how the Huskies wore down the Broncos in the second half. After wearing down Boise with the no-huddle offense, the Huskies were able to control the ground game in the second half, finishing with 268 yards rushing as a team. The Huskies carried the ball with eight players against Boise and will look to use multiple options against Illinois. The UW offensive line looks new and improved, and has always been strong in the run game. Clearly, Bishop Sankey will got most of the workload but the Dwayne Washington/Deontae Cooper/Jesse Callier trio will see its fair share of work. By pushing the pace and subbing frequently, Illinois won’t have the talent or the depth to hang with the Huskies. With the amount of depth on both the offense and defensive sides of the ball for the Huskies, UW should be able to wear down the Illini and pull away in the end.
If the Huskies are able to pull off the win against the Illini, they will have a lot of momentum going into a two-game home stand, giving them a chance to be 4-0 before playing Stanford and Oregon back-to-back. The Huskies will have to bring their best to Soldier Field. Illinois will not be a cake walk and will be an impressive win if the Huskies pull it off on Saturday.