Illinois Position Previews — Special Teams

Aug 31, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini defensive back V'Angelo Bentley (2) out runs Southern Illinois Salukis cornerback Keith Suggs (11) on a kickoff for a 100 yard touchdown at Memorial Stadium. Illinois won 42-34. - Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, we take a look at the various fronts of Washington's upcoming opponent. Today, we examine the special teams of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini.

Players to watch
PK/KOS Taylor Zalewski, KR V'Angelo Bentley, PR Miles Osei

Notable injuries/absences

Third-year sophomore Taylor Zalewski has about as big of a leg as you could expect to see, especially out of someone just a few months past his 20th birthday. In 2012, 23 of his 43 kickoffs went for touchbacks, and in the placekicking game, he made four of seven shots, including a 54-yard attempt against Purdue. In 2013, he's 3 for 4 with a long of 33, with the miss coming from 32 yards out. He's been perfect in his other main kicking duty, PATs, hitting all 10 of his attempts this year.

On the other side of the kickoff return game, sophomore DB V'Angelo Bentley showed off his skills against Southern Illinois in the season opener when he took a kickoff 100 yards for a score. It marked the Illini's first touchdown on a kickoff return since 2008, which was a drought that Husky fans can relate to: No Washington player has returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2007, and the team hasn't returned a punt for a score since 2003. Illinois showed a superior ability to return kicks late last season, when they logged 40-yard returns in three straight games. Defensively, Illinois ranks just 109th in limiting the gains of kickoff returners, so there's definitely an opportunity for Washington to use its speedsters to exploit this apparent weakness in its opponent.

Punt returner Miles Osei is no slouch himself, having scampered for 38 yards on one return against Cincinnati. He is a weapon that Washington will no doubt have to contain at some point during the game, as he's the kind of talented player who has a natural knack for making moves in space. Their coverage team could use some work, though, as opponents of the Fighting Illini have earned a robust average of 10.6 yards per return.


As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and USA Today's College Football Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.

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