When someone mentions Louisiana Tech, the term football powerhouse doesn’t exactly come to mind. However, this year’s team is no slouch, and the Illini need to stay strong and focused to tame the Bulldogs on Saturday.
Right now, the Illini have a record of 2-1, and it’s still unclear who they are exactly. There have been injuries galore, including an ankle injury that took out starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase for two games now. Sources have said he is “near 100%” in terms of his recovery and that he is expected to play. The Illini missed him in that loss in Arizona against the Sun Devils two weeks ago, but Riley O’Toole stepped in nicely last week at home against Charleston Southern. If Scheelhaase is back in, this weekend’s team could look completely different yet again.
Louisiana Tech is currently undefeated. Their first game against Texas A&M was postponed due to Hurricane Isaac, and they had wins at Houston (56-49) and home against Rice (56-37). It seems like they are partial to the number 56, and that’s a wee bit scary. However, the Illinois defense was firing on all cylinders in last week’s shut out, so that could be something Louisiana Tech hasn’t witnessed yet this season.
According to my trusted Yahoo Pick’em Pool, the Illini are only favored by about 3 points, and this is at home against a team in the Western Atlantic Conference. LT likes to score a lot of points, but their opponents also scored 49 and 37 against them, so that would indicate their defense might need a little bit of work.
In fact, Louisiana Tech ranks in the top-10 nationally in scoring offense (3rd, 56.0 ppg), total offense (5th, 603.5 ypg) and rushing offense (9th, 289.0 ypg). On the other hand, the Bulldogs rank 120th in the nation (out of 120) in total defense (585.0 ypg) and pass defense (392.5 ypg), 119th in punt returns (-3.0 ypr) and 118th in scoring defense (43.0 ppg).
If Scheelhaase isn’t in the game, or if perhaps things aren’t going his way, O’Toole is going to have a lot more confidence going going in after last week. Heck the whole team is going to feel pretty good going into Saturday’s game. RB Josh Ferguson, who was out with “headaches” last week, is also expected to be back in the game. As long as we can get our offense going, I think that we’re going to be just fine on Saturday.
Some have said that this game could let us know whether or not Illinois will be looking at a Bowl game this year. If we win Saturday, then we only need to win three more games, and we’ve got Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue on the upcoming schedule, not to mention a depleted Penn State. However, I still believe that a loss wouldn’t put us out of the running by any means, especially since the team is somewhat unpredictable. This is not a must-win game at all, but it would make the rest of the season just a little bit easier.
Some fun facts:
- Illinois and Louisiana Tech are meeting for the first time on Saturday.
- Illinois has controlled time of possession in all three games this season. The Illini are ranked 14th nationally and third in the Big Ten in time of possession after week three (33:36).
- Illinois did not let CSU convert a third down in 13 attempts on Saturday.
- On the season, the Illini defense is holding opponents to a 24.3 percent conversion rate (9-for-37) on third downs, which is tops in the Big Ten and 10th-best in the nation.
- Illinois is one of only 15 teams in the nation that has not allowed a fourth-down conversion (0-1).
- In all, 22 Illini have played for the first time this season. Last week against Charleston Southern, freshman LB Mason Monheim and junior C Jake Feldmeyer both made their first starts.
We’re looking at our first night game at Memorial Stadium this season, with the game airing at 7pm on the BTN. This weekend is the second wedding of the year that will prohibit me from watching an Illini football game, so I will be sending my best wishes to the team mentally and surreptitiously checking the score on my phone.