Week 3 preview: Washington vs Illinois

Going into week 3 of the season many teams are trying to find their groove going into league play. Two teams that are the definition of that are the Washington Huskies and Illinois Fighting Illini. Washington needs to find its rhythm before going into the brutal Pac-12 schedule and the Illini need to get as many wins as they can before starting Big 10 play. Let the desperation begin for both teams.
Washington is a team that has to contend with teams such as Oregon and Stanford in their own division. Having two top 15 programs in their own division provides a level of anxiousness with their fans that is hard to measure. The Huskies can’t fall asleep on the rest of their division either, that’s how much parity the Pac-12 has this year. Every game is a slug fest or as I like to think with the Pac-12, a track meet.
When the Huskies take the field on offense they will turn to quarterback Cyler Miles. Miles, according to reports, is better than Lindquist in terms of being more mobile. The aspect of his game that is suspect is his ability to throw downfield. He looked a bit hesitant to do that in the last game with Eastern Washington and it almost cost them that game against an FCS school. However, the quarterback that they have throwing the ball is very dangerous. His name is Vernon Adams. In the last against Eastern Washington, there were some throws that this kid made that were very difficult to defend. Husky fans may have found a kid who can be put into that Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota category. Just not yet. The Huskies have to decide on a quarterback first. A two headed beast at quarterback may work for the short term, but to have success at the Division 1 level, the Dawgs have to decide on one quarterback at some point.
The ground attack had a great week against Eastern Washington, gaining almost 360 yards. The guy that had many of those yards was Lavon Coleman who had 118 yards and is trying to separate himself from the rest of the running backs into being “the guy” for the Huskies. The running game is still a work in progress though. They got stymied by Hawaii a couple of weeks ago and ran wild against the Eagles of Eastern Washington, so it is a mystery as to what ground game shows up.
The challenge for the Huskies will be keeping the Illini off of the scoreboard. The pass defense displayed against a weaker opponent will be something the Illini will almost certainly try to exploit again and again. The defensive backs looked like JV players when they played the Eagles. It was a very porous defense, many holes in the secondary were exposed. Additionally, the Husky defense can’t drop interceptions like they did in the EWU game. If they hold onto those interceptions, they potentially keep 14 points off of the scoreboard and the game is won with a little bit more ease. It will be interesting to see what the defensive staff is going to come up with for the Illinois game.
Onto, the Fighting Illini. Unlike their counterparts in Seattle, the Illini have a definite starter at quarterback in Les Hunt. The transfer kid from Oklahoma State, who had to sit a year because of transfer rules has done what coaches have thought he could do when he showed up on campus. He has already started setting records for the Illini. For example, in his first game, he threw for 285 yards and 4 touchdowns. That is the best debut of an Illini quarterback ever. Secondly, he followed that performance up with a 485 yard performance. The kid can flat out throw the ball, but that also means he has a line that is giving him time to throw and he has receivers that can catch. Listen up Husky fans, if your secondary doesn’t bring it’s “A” game on Saturday, Les Hunt will torch your team and turn Husky Stadium into his own little party house. Here is another stat that will cause Husky fans to worry. Hunt makes plays when it matters most. He is 19-22 with 4 touchdowns and NO, I repeat, NO interceptions in the fourth quarter. Les Hunt is pretty good. I am interested in how he does against a big school, from a big conference, on the road because 75,000 Husky fans will be in his ear.
On defense, the Illini look to linebacker Earnest Thomas. He led the team in tackles as a strong safety last year. With the schools great history at linebacker, Thomas fits that mold. He plays the STAR linebacker spot, which for the Illini is a hybrid safety/linebacker position. Which is great for Illinois because they can use their best player closer to the line of scrimmage and that can turn into big plays being made for the defense.
Another great athlete on the Illini side is cornerback/punt returner/kickoff returner V’Angelo Bentley. This kid ranked 7th in the nation in kickoff return yards, averaging 16 yards a return. This kid can fly down the field for Illinois and get them great field position, which in turn gives their quarterback a shorter field to play with and puts the Husky defense in some pretty dicey situations. Bentley is the only player in school history with a punt return for a touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown in one season. His punt return was against Ohio State, so he will not be scared of doing it in Husky Stadium. If Bentley gets loose, watch out Washington.
Considering how difficult Husky Stadium can be to play in I think the Dawgs will put up an early fight, but I do think Illinois comes out the victor in this game. The porous Husky defense combined with the Illini quarterbacking of Les Hunt makes for an explosive afternoon in Seattle. The recent suspension of defensive star Marcus Peters only adds to the potential for a huge afternoon for Illinois.
Final score: Illinois 31 Washington 14