Cleat Geeks

B1G Game of the Week

After a thrilling slate of Week 1 match-ups, Week 2 is understandably boring, with very few even decent games to watch Saturday. With that being said, I still can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’ve got Illinois as the Big Ten team to watch tonight against North Carolina. Don’t write this game off immediately, though, because there are a few reasons to watch.  Most importantly, Lovie Smith gets his first big test in the NCAA since 1995, and it comes after his tenure with the Illini commenced with a rout of Murray State last week.  If he’s actually turning around a previously depressing U of I team, it will show tonight.  On the other sideline, North Carolina gets the chance to defend itself after blowing a lead against Georgia last week. Let’s break it down:loviesmithillinoiscenter

Game Preview:

  • If the Illini want to have a chance in this ballgame, they’ll have to stop the run. Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan put up over eight yards a carry against the Bulldogs last week, and Hood is one of the better backs in the nation. Illinois has a very talented defensive front that clobbered Murray State for -10 yards rushing last week, so the ability’s there.
  • Likewise, UNC must stop the Illini rushing attack after letting Nick Chubb run all over the field last week, as UGA ran for almost 300 yards. U of I put up 287 yards rushing last week with four touchdowns, and star RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn only had 49 of those.  Whichever team stops the run will win the game.
  • UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky needs to have a more productive game if the Tar Heels want to walk out of Memorial Stadium with a win. He had less than 200 yards throwing and was just 24-40 last week, missing several open deep threats.
  • Keep in mind that U of I will host its best atmosphere in recent years tonight, with over 50,000 fans expected to be in attendance for the primetime action. Anything can happen under the lights with a crowd like that.

    AP Photo/Bradley Leeb

    AP Photo/Bradley Leeb

Keys to a Victory:

  • Look for Illinois to load the box early and often tonight. If they can stop Hood early and force Trubisky to convert long third downs like UGA did, they’ll take down the Heels.
  • In a redemption game, UNC will look to pound the ball after airing it out way too many times last week.  If they slow the tempo down by moving the chains on the ground, play-action deep threats will reward the team with a couple touchdowns.

Last Year’s Result: North Carolina pounded the Illini 48-14 in Week 3, got in a groove, and rode the momentum to the ACC Championship.nchelmet

Last Week’s Results: Illinois dominated Murray State 52-3.  UNC fell out of the Top 25 with a 33-24 loss at Georgia.

Prediction:  I’m 0-1 this year after picking against a surprisingly talented Wisconsin team last week.  Hopefully I’m wrong again, but I just can’t bring myself to go with Lovie in only his second game with the Illini. North Carolina has too much to play for, as they must redeem a poorly coached loss at UGA. They’ll find ways to get Hood and receiver Ryan Switzer in space, even if U of I does slow down the run game.  Don’t be surprised if Illinois hangs with the Heels early, but I’ve got UNC winning by double digits with a strong second half.

Other Notable Matchups:

  • Iowa State at Iowa – If you’re a fan of historic rivalries, tune in as the Cyclones travel to a roaring Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City today.
  • Penn State at Pittsburgh – This is another rivalry with talented backs, as Saquon Barkley and James Conner will go head to head in the rushing game.  Whichever team stops the ground attack will win.

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