1. How are Illinois fans feeling at this point in the season? Is there a general consensus, or are people split?
Illinois fans are screaming for Tim Beckman's head. I'd say that fans were split on this issue last week, but losing to Purdue has turned everyone against him. The sad thing is, I don't think a majority of the fans even realize how bad of a loss that really was -- Beckman's 1-17 conference record has just decimated expectations. A change needs to be made and it needs to happen soon.
2. What's the strength of this Illinois team? And the greatest weakness?
I'd say the greatest strength of the team is the receiving corps. The group is a bit inexperienced, but Illinois hasn't had a group this talented in a long time. 6'4 JUCO transfer Geronimo Allison has become a legitimate down-field threat --something the Illini have lacked for years. Also, the performance of freshman Mikey Dudek has been nothing short of spectacular; he catches everything thrown to him out of the slot. He was named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list after his 200-yard game against Purdue and I think he's a frontrunner for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Fellow freshman Malik Turner and running back Josh Ferguson have also been very consistent in the passing game.
More on the Game
More on the Game
Illinois' greatest weakness is the entire defense. The unit was terrible and inexperienced last year, but improvement was bound to occur with 90 percent of the two-deep returning, right? Nope. They've somehow found a way to be even worse this season. They can't tackle, they commit bad penalties, they shy away from contact and the secondary takes horrid angles. It's hard to watch.
3. What should Wisconsin fans expect from Illinois' offense?
It was announced on Sunday that quarterback Wes Lunt will be out 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured leg. This is a HUGE loss. Lunt has been one of the best quarterbacks in the conference thus far as he's thrown for nearly 1,600 yards and 13 touchdowns (three interceptions) in five games. Look for senior Reilly O'Toole to start the game. Sophomore Aaron Bailey, who's supposed to be redshirting, is now the backup and will probably see a few snaps as well.
Play-calling-wise, expect to see a lot of short screen/flat passes throughout the game. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit prefers that to running the ball for whatever reason. We're successful when we throw the ball downfield, but it doesn't happen that much. All in all, Illinois' offense is probably going to struggle on Saturday.
4. And what about the defense?
As I mentioned before, the Illinois defense has been the stuff of nightmares. You can expect a lot of missed tackles and penalties. I think this game will be eerily similar to our contest against Nebraska a few weeks ago. The Badgers' offensive line will create enormous holes for Melvin Gordon and he'll run all over us. On average, Illinois is giving up 35.5 points per game -- I think Wisconsin will easily get that.
5. Do you have any read on the amount of Illini fans that'll make their way to Madison for this one, relative to recent games at Camp Randall?
I'm not exactly sure what the Illinois contingent has been like in Wisconsin lately, but expect less than usual. It's obviously been a rough season and I doubt many will be willing to make the drive. However, Saturday is the annual Block I road trip; our student section travels to an opposing Big Ten school each year and Madison happens to be this season's destination. Nearly 100 of us (I'm going) will be leaving early on Saturday morning. Make sure to keep an eye out for the crazies dressed in orange!
6. Do you have a prediction?
Illinois' season is all but over. I mentioned earlier that the fans have given up, but have the players and coaches done so as well? I guess we'll find out soon enough. The Illini offense will probably struggle without Lunt and I'm expecting Gordon to run wild against our 122nd-ranked rushing defense. I'm predicting yet another embarrassing loss -- Wisconsin wins 52-13.