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Illinois Position Previews - Defense

Examining the strongest defense of Washington's non-conference slate.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody will be declaring Washington the top offense in the conference for succeeding against a EWU defense that appears to be below average even by FCS standards. That being said, it's hard to criticize 59 points and a win.

At a certain point on Saturday, it became obvious that Washington would need to score on nearly every possession. Miles, in his first start of the season and second of his career, could not be asked to produce that many points purely by way of his right arm. So, instead, Washington pounded the ball 57 times for 356 yards and seven scores. That's encouraging.

Cyler Miles is very athletic, his teammates trust him, and in a limited sample size he has avoided stupid turnovers. I thought the coaching staff did a good job of playing to his strengths. From the get go, Miles handed of frequently, and when he did pass, it usually involved horizontal swing passes or safer intermediate throws. While this was a little frustrating to watch given that Vernon Adams was slinging rainbows all day long like it was nothing, the game likely would have ended in disaster if the staff had forced Miles to carry the offense down the stretch.

Instead, Miles handed off to Coleman, and Washington, and Thompson. Once the offense neared the goal line, he often kept it himself, scoring three touchdowns to go with his single passing score. Sometimes the drives were ugly, but they worked.

Against Illinois, I expect the general approach to remain unchanged. Hopefully Miles will be little more comfortable, and can take on a little more responsibility as a passer, but he will still not be the focal point. He attempted 24 passes in a shootout, so even if his role does grow this week, his attempts may not.

Defensive Line

Pass rush was an issue last year, as the defensive line recorded a total of 7.5 sacks (the linebackers added six and the secondary chipped in a half). LEO Houston Bates and DE Tim Kynard took six of those sacks with them upon graduating.

6-2, 290-pound nose tackle Austin Teitsma returns for his senior season after leading the line in total tackles. He's joined on the inside by junior DT Teko Powell (6-3, 305). DE Kenny Nelson (6-6, 250) and LEO DeJazz Woods (6-3, 255) bookend the starting line.

Teitsma looks to be the only real difference maker here. Through two games, he leads the D-line in tackles (10) and tackles for loss (2.5). Woods has one sack, and backup defensive end Jihad Ward is tied with Teitsma with 10 total tackles (and 1.5 TFL).

The interior of this line is bigger than that of Eastern or Hawaii (UH uses a single NT for their 3-4), but at the risk of sounding dismissive the overall talent level is not high and the two best playmakers from last season are gone.


The Illinois ‘backers have been productive through two games. Junior WILL Mason Monheim already has 21 total tackles. His fellow starters, MIKE T.J. Neal Jr. and STAR Earnest Thomas III, are both in the top six on the team in that category. Monheim slid over from the MIKE spot to replace departed WILL Jonathan Brown, who led the team in tackles, TFLs, and sacks last season.

All three starters are experienced, but after only two games against weak competition, it's tough to judge the quality of this unit.

Note: I counted the LEO as a defensive linemen even though it's a hybrid DE/OLB spot, and counted the STAR as a LB even though it's a hybrid LB/S role.

Defensive Backs

Everyone is back! Seriously, Illinois returns every single major contributor from last year's defensive backfield. Of course, this is only possible because this group was extremely inexperienced last season. It showed.

V'Angelo Bentley (5-10, 190) and Eaton Spence (6-0, 185) should start at corner, with FS Taylor Barton (6-1, 215) and SS Zane Petty (6-1, 205) rounding things out. The two names to watch here are Bentley and Barton. Barton, only a sophomore, has totaled 21 tackles. Bentley has played well as the team's primary corner.

The Illinois defense as a whole was challenged by Youngstown State and Western Kentucky, but neither opposing QB had an easy time passing. Youngstown's QB, Dante Nana, went 11/24 for 177 yards with no scores or picks. Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky fared better, completing 28 of 48 passes for 297 yards, 2 scores, and a pick.

Nana was held pretty much in check, and the game was only close because the Illini offense struggled to get started until late in the contest. Doughty managed good-looking counting stats, but he required 48 passes to reach 297 yards, a pretty mediocre 6.2 yards per attempt. Nothing for the Illini to brag about, but Washington fans have seen enough this year to appreciate the difference between mediocre coverage and horrible coverage.


Cyler Miles is not the strength of UW's offense (at least not yet), while defending the pass appears to be a relative strength for Illinois. Meanwhile, Washington has a deep stable of talented backs and a veteran offensive line and is coming off a 59-point performance driven by the ground game.

This one should be simple. Pound the ball with Lavon Coleman. When he needs a breather, pound the ball with Dwayne Washington. Throw Shaq in there for a series or two. I do not believe that the Illinois defense has the talent or the toughness to stop them.

As for Miles, he needs to take a few shots to keep the offense from seeming totally one dimensional (one of those bubble screens is going to get jumped eventually), but there's no harm in limiting his chance of error in the red zone, where he is much safer scrambling for the score than throwing up a contested fade.

To sum things up: Run. Pass a little. Pray the Husky defense can defend a go route this week.