As I noted last week, the win over Boise State has me all-in on this team - I think the combination of talent, experience and improved coaching makes this the best Husky team Sark has had by a significant margin. And part of that belief means throwing out old beliefs, like the problems the Huskies have had on the road. This is a different team - a more mature team and one that Sark says has the best leadership of any he's had at Washington.
I think the bye week will have advantages - as Sark has noted, it gave the staff the chance to evaluate what worked in Week 1 and make adjustments sooner than they normally would in a season. I think it also gave the team the chance to get over any lingering excitement about the big Boise State win and re-focus on the task at hand. Plus, the surprising margin of victory for Illinois vs. Cincinnati certainly caught their attention.
While the Illini have improved significantly thus far on offense, their defense has not been so lucky - they are giving up yards almost as quickly as they gain them. That's not a good omen when facing a Washington offense that appears to have made a major jump with the commitment to a full-time HUNH approach and a more experienced group of skill players. Further, the offensive matchups don't seem to favor Illinois - they haven't run the ball particularly well and their OL has surrendered 5 sacks already on the young season. They also appear vulnerable to giving up big returns on special teams.
That's not to say I think the Illini will just roll over and get boat-raced by the Huskies, but I have a hard time seeing their offense being able to keep up with ours. It might play out similar to week 1, where the score is fairly close at halftime before the Huskies pull away in the 2nd half for a comfortable win - let's call it Washington 38, Illinois 17
Going on the road has been a treacherous proposition for the Huskies the last few years. Still, we aren't really going on the road to a hostile location. We are going to a neutral field that is closer in proximity to Champaign but will be only half full. In addition, there are expected to be 4000 "friends and family" of UW players in attendance. Furthermore, the fact that UW is far more accustomed to the differences that come with playing on a pro-field (hashmark locations) than Illinois give them an ever so slight advantage. So, let's call this "kinda on the road".
On the football field, Illinois has shown some fight this year. While their QB and their experienced receivers should be able to provide a good challenge for our defensive backs, they do not have the running game or offensive line play to hold off our Defense for four straight quarters. In fact, given the drop-back opportunities that Illinois likes to take in order to generate big plays, our pressure defense and blitzing should be able to score us a few sacks. On the flip side, there is simply no way that the Illinois defense is going to be able to disrupt the Huskies pressure attack. If Boise couldn't stop a UW team without Austin Seferian-Jenkins, imagine what Illinois will do (or, more accurately, won't do) to a UW team with ASJ. Pick your poison: Bishop Sankey, Kasen Williams, Jaydon Mickens, ASJ, or John Ross. This is too much for Illinois. The Huskies go into Chicago and win big: UW 45 - Illinois 13
Washington shows that this is indeed a different kind of Husky team, playing focused and executing well from the opening whistle.
The Illinois defense proves that their coaches know how to study film and they come out in formations that take away the easy bubble screens and smoke routes that Price was able to complete at will against BSU. This adjustment simply changes the method of their destruction however, as Sankey takes advantage of a light box and consistently generates nice yardage on the UW's bread and butter inside zone runs. ASJ returns to action and also finds room in the middle of the defense. Price has a solid outing overall.
On defense, the game plan looks pretty similar to the one utilized against BSU, though the Huskies show more two high safety looks, due to a lack of concern for Illinois' anemic running game. The defense still feels a little bend-but-don't-break-ish as Wilcox again keeps most of his blitz schemes in his pocket. Scheelhaase still feels the heat however, and the Huskies collect more than one sack, mostly on the strength of good downfield coverage. Illinois manages to draw blood a couple of times on some combination of trick plays, play action passes and Scheelhaase's improvisation. However, Scheelhaase's improvisational act also nets the Illini multiple turnovers.
In the end, the talent, depth, pace and schemes the Huskies bring to the party are just too much for the Illini.
Final Score UW 41, Illinois 17
Washington has too many weapons for Illinois to handle. Cyler Miles gets more game action and John Ross has a return touchdown. UW 50 - Illinois 17
Was last week a fluke against Boise St? The Huskies dominated a quality opponent in all 3 phases and will look to do the same on Saturday. I think Illinois is a better team than people would like to think. Though they won only 2 games last year and have hardly looked like world beaters on their way to a 2-0 record, they are still a BCS conference foe that has some size and talent. Ultimately, I see this unfolding like the Boise game: I think their QB Nathan Scheelhause keeps it close for the first half but the Dawgs pull away in the 3rd quarter with some big plays and stifling defense. My bold prediction: John Ross gets the first TD for the Huskies on a play action pass, where he'll beat his man deep for an easy 6. Scheelhause will throw for a TD, and have a decent game, but the Huskies win it 38-13.