Previewing the Illinois Fighting Illini: Part II - Defense and Special Teams

As mentioned in Part I of the Illinois preview, the Fighting Illini's defense has been very impressive this year. Illinois is 7th in total defense and 4th in passing defense. They do have a soft spot, however, as they are 42nd in rushing defense and ended the season poorly, giving up over 200 yards on the ground in 3 of the final 6 games with another game allowing 195 yards.

Defensive Line

If you've watched Illinois, you know that the man to watch out for on defense is DE Whitney Mercilus (6-4, 265, Jr.). On the season, he has 14.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He will undoubtedly hear his name called in the first round of this year's draft, and is probably salivating over the thought of playing against our thin line. He's backed up by Tim Kynard (6-3, 260, So.).

The other end spot is termed "bandit" in Vic Koenning's scheme and is more of a hybrid DE/OLB position. It's manned by Michael Buchanan (6-6, 240, Jr.) who has 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss on the season. Justin Staples (6-4, 235, Jr.) and Brandon Denmark (6-4, 225, So.) will see time as the backups.

At DT, Akeem Spence (6-1, 305, So.) and Glenn Foster (6-4, 260, Jr.) start with Craig Wilson (6-5, 320, Sr.) and Wisdom Onyegbule (6-3, 285, Sr.) as the primary backups.

Linebackers

Jonathan Brown (6-1, 235, So.) is Illinois' leading tackler with 102 from the WLB spot, and he adds an impressive 6 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He's backed up by a pair of RS freshmen, Houston Bates (6-3, 240, r-Fr.) and Henry Dickinson (6-4, 230, Fr.).

Ian Thomas (6-1, 235, Sr.) starts in the middle and is the team's second leading tackler with 78, and he has 2.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss as well. Brown is the backup MLB, and Ralph Cooper (6-1, 230, Fr.) is third string.

At SLB, Ashante Williams (5-11, 205, Jr.) starts with Earnest Thomas (6-2, 220, r-Fr.) behind him. In 9 games, Williams has only 19 tackles.

Secondary

Steve Hull (6-2, 200, So.) is the leading tackler in the secondary from the SS spot with 58 tackles. Supo Sanni (6-3, 220, Jr.) starts at FS and adds 46 tackles. Both safeties are backed up by Pat Nixon-Youman (5-10, 180, Jr.).

At corner, Terry Hawthorne (6-0, 190, Jr.) or Justin Green (5-11, 195, Jr.) start at one spot with Tavon Wilson (6-0, 205, Sr.) at the other. None of the CB's are ballhawks, as Illinois' team leader in INT's has 2.

Special Teams

Derek Dimke (6-0, 180, Sr.) handles the placekicking duties and is 8/9 on FG attempts and 32/32 on XP.

Punter Justin DuVernois (6-1, 190, Fr.) is averaging just over 38 yards per punt, and WR Ryan Lankford also has 14 punts on the season and is averaging just over 37 yards per punt.

Lankford also handles the punt return duties but only has a few returns on the season for minimal yards. Troy Pollard and Darius Millines handle most of the kickoff returns, but Illinois does not gain much in terms of returns. Their coverage teams do appear to cover well, as they only give up 8 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kickoff return, although they have allowed a kickoff return TD.

That concludes the Illinois Fighting Illini preview. Fire away with any additional thoughts and comments.

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