Our sister SBNation site this week is The Champaign Room (great name), and their writer Brandon Birkhead was gracious enough to answer some of our questions. As always, check out their site to get the inside scoop on what's going on with this week's competition.
1. Nathan Scheelhaase has had a bit of an up and down career, but he's off to a fantastic start to 2013. Is there a feeling that he can continue this level of play, or is there some trepidation about when he starts seeing some of the better defenses on the schedule?
The Cincy defense was not a bad defense at all. They only let up 243.5 passing yards per game in 2012, and Scheelhaase put up 312 yards Saturday.
There are two main reasons that Scheelhaase is having success. One is he is finally healthy. Last season he was injured, and it was obviously hurting his play. His game is based on being able to move the pocket to open easy throwing lanes, but he was unable to do that last season. Now that he is fully heathy, he is able to play his game.
Secondly, Bill Cubit is a genius. He has taken the same group that was the worst offense in the Big Ten last season, and completely rebuilt them. He puts players in positions to succeed, Scheelhaase included. By use of many formations he is able to get Scheelhaase some easy throws.
Of course we don't see Scheelhaase putting up Heisman numbers each week. Cincy's defense isn't anything compared to the top Big Ten teams, and as more tape comes out on the offense, it will be tougher for the Illini, but he will likely have the best statistical season in his Illinois career. He is a great guy. He really deserves it.
2. Illinois has allowed their opponents to gain over 400 yards in their first two games. Will they be able to slow down Washington's attack that put up nearly 600 yards of offense in their only game this year?
I want to say yes, but it's likely a no. Besides the linebackers, the Illini's defense really doesn't have any impact players. It's going to be tough for the Illini. The offense will have to be the best defense this season.
3. Who are some players Washington fans should keep their eyes on for the Illini on offense?
Scheelhaase we already talked about. He is a very smart QB, and he likes to spread the ball around.
RB Josh Ferguson has looked great these first two games. He is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 26.3 yards per catch.
The Illini don't have a go to WR, but both Martize Barr and Ryan Lankford are solid options for the Illini. Lanlford is a great athlete with so much speed, he just has problems with his hands. Barr is in his first season in Division I after transferring from JUCO, and he looked great last week. By the end of the year, I think he will be the Illini's top option.
4. Same question, but for defense.
It's all about the two linebackers, Mason Monheim and Jonathan Brown here. JB is the only Illini player that is certain to be drafted in 2012. He has so much speed for the position, and he is very aggressive. He is at his best when he is able to attack the ball carrier and the QB. Mason Monheim is your typical Big Ten middle linebacker. Big and hits like a sonuvabitch. He played really well as a freshman, and now in his sophomore season, he is become the Illini's second best defensive player.
5. What will be the keys for the game for Illinois?
The Illini have to move the ball effectively and score points. Washington's is going to be tough for the Illini to stop, so Illinois will have to keep possession of the ball, and move effectively down the field and score TDs. They will also need to continue to have explosive plays on offense. It sounds simple, and it is, but that's how the Illini will have to play to stay in the game and have a shot to win it.
6. What's your prediction for the game?
I think it will be a relatively close, high scoring affair. After the unexpected win over Cincy last week, I really want to ride the momentum and pick the Illini, but I think Washington will prove to be too much. Huskies 42 Illini 31. But if you told me we would be 2-1 after three games three weeks ago, I would have been thrilled.