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Quick Hitters: Early breakdown and initial thoughts on Illinois



Indiana football takes on Illinois this weekend
An early breakdown and some key thoughts on Illinois ahead of the week 11 matchup for Indiana football this week. (Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports)

The Indiana football program looks to get a second-straight win this weekend when it travels to Illinois.

Indiana is 3-6 overall and 1-5 in Big Ten play.

Illinois enters at 4-5 on the season and 2-4 in Big Ten play.

Here are some early thoughts on the Illini and the matchup.

Isaiah Williams is the real deal … and a major threat all over the field. Williams had a strong past two seasons but this year he has taken his game to another level. He has 59 receptions for 693 yards — first and second in the Big ten respectively. He also has three receiving touchdowns. He’s emerged as a true No. 1 wideout this season. After 13 games in his previous two seasons with more than four receptions, seven of his nine games this season have come with at least five receptions. At just 5-foot-10, Williams has tremendous speed and elusiveness … both things that the Indiana football secondary have struggled with at times. Despite his size, he’s become a legit possession wide receiver for the Illini and a true safety target as well. He has averaged 10 yards per reception and has totaled at least 50 yards in seven games each as well.

Quarterback situation a bit iffy. The Illini have had good quarterback play from Luke Altmyer all season long but had to turn to sixth-year transfer John Paddock on Saturday after Altmyer went down with an injury.Paddock went 3-of-3 for 85 yards, including the game-winning 46-yard touchdown to take down Minnesota. If Altmyer isn’t able to go, Paddock is a guy who threw for 2,719 yards and 18 touchdowns with 14 interceptions a season ago for Ball State. Paddock is much more of a pocket-passer and will not look to run or try to get out of the pocket. For Altmyer, however, he is a legit dual-threat option. He has run for 70 yards in three games this season, including a 100-yard performance against Wisconsin. He also has four games with at least 10 carries. Neither QB will will be a major deep-ball threat as Altmyer has thrown for over 220 yards just twice this season.

Illinois defense a welcomed break from some of the recent defensive units IU’s faced. After a few weeks going up against some of the top defenses in the Big Ten — and the entire country — Illinois will be a welcomed sight for an improving and confident offense. The Illini rank 13th in the Big Ten in total defense, giving up 380.9 yards and 28 total touchdowns, and rank 12th in scoring defense (27.6 pts per game). So far this season, the Illini have given up at least 20 points in all but one game. Additionally, they’ve given up at least three touchdowns in six games. There usually isn’t a lot of ‘stopping the bleeding’ with Illinois’ defense, either. It has given up the most first downs in the league and is last in total interceptions (4) this year. With Indiana hitting some of its stride and playing it’s best on the offensive side all season, we could see continued success from that unit this season.

Running back by committee for a depleted group. It hasn’t been the best year for Illinois’ running backs. Starter Reggie Love has missed the last three games with an injury while the Illini already lost Josh McCray (neck) and Jordan Anderson (ACL) to season-ending injuries. Love is expected to be back this week. He is a quick, strong back who is averaging 5.0 yards per carry this season. He has been the most effective runner for the Illini when healthy. He’s not much of a threat out of the backfield, however. Kaden Feagin had been the lead back during the three-game absence and he’s totaled 418 yards on 4.7 yards per carry. Three out of the last four games for Feagin have resulted in at lest 85 yards on the ground. He’s a big, physical style runner who has great size at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. Feagin is also a decent pass-catcher out of the backfield, with multiple receptions in three of the last four games.

SEE ALSO: ‘We’re not done yet’: Indiana football finally reaps benefits of hard work and sees ‘game day success’

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.