Questions from the other side

Miles Powers-Huang from The Daily Illini breaks down Illinois

by John Miller

To preview the upcoming game game against Illinois, we interviewed Miles Powers-Huang, staff writer from The Daily Illini, to get an inside look at the Illini. 

Illinois is 2-2 so far on the year with a few close games that ended up in a loss. How do you feel about Illinois so far this season?   

“Illinois is certainly behind where I thought it could reasonably be at this point in the season when I first looked at the schedule. I thought there was a legitimate path for this team to start 4-0, given that three of their first four games came at home, and the one superior opponent they played, Nebraska, is a far less potent team away from Lincoln. The most concerning part of this season was without question the Eastern Michigan game. Normally, you would expect that a Group of Five team would need to pull off a few trick plays and cause several turnovers to beat a Power Five opponent, but Eastern Michigan simply lined up, ran the zone read and threw the ball over the top of Illinois’ defensive backs whenever it wanted. Even when the Illini rallied back to tie the game, the Eagles did not panic whatsoever, calmly driving the ball down the field to kick a game-winning field goal. The Illini can score enough points to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Big Ten standings, but their defense is going to need to step up to do so.”

The Illinois defense is struggling immensely. How do they begin to stop Minnesota’s potent offense? 

“They won’t. I don’t mean to give a cop-out answer, but there is nothing that I’ve seen thus far that leads me to believe Illinois could hold an offense with the skill-position players that Minnesota has to less than 30 points. The main problem that Illinois faces is Lovie Smith’s insistence to run a cover-two defense, which is designed drop deep to force check-down throws, despite the fact that this team struggles to wrap up tackles in the open field. I would predict Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman to have big days picking on Illinois’ coverage, just as Nebraska’s JD Spielman did. Illinois might have a few adjustments to show off coming out of a bye week, but I would hesitate to expect any of them to work. A timely takeaway is about all this unit could reasonably be expected to contribute toward an Illini victory. Other than that, Illinois’ offense is going to have to win a shoot out if there is any hope of victory.”

Quarterback Brandon Peters and running back Reggie Corbin are providing stability to an Illinois offense that hasn’t had it in a few years. What do Gophers fans need to know about those two? 

“Playing in a Michigan offense in 2017 that was extremely pro-style and conservative gave the conference the wrong impression of Brandon Peters. He’s more athletic than his frame or his Michigan tape show, and I wouldn’t bet against him pulling off a few clutch scampers for first downs or even touchdowns against Minnesota. He has a tendency to be hot and cold however, going entire quarters without putting any points on the board and then leading long, immaculate touchdown drives in bunches. His accuracy issues have hurt the Illini this season, and that may cause him to struggle in a hostile road environment.”

“Corbin is the best running back you’ve probably never heard of if you’re outside Big Ten country. He just has a knack for picking up chunk plays, even when it looks like he’s going to get wrapped up. Minnesota fans are probably still in disbelief of him gaining 217 yards and two touchdowns against the Gophers last season on just 13 carries. He may lose out to Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor on the All-Big Ten first team due to Illinois’ record, but his numbers and highlight reel will speak for themselves come season’s end. He’s probably not big enough to be an every down back at the next level but he’s got legit NFL speed.”

Best Offensive Player:  Wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe

Best Defensive Player: Oluwole Betiku Jr. 

Under-The-Radar Player: Tight end Daniel Barker

End-of-Season Record Prediction: 4-8

Score Prediction: Minnesota 34 – Illinois 27

This interview has been edited for style and length.