Position by position breakdown: Illinois vs. Iowa

QUARTERBACKS:

Juice Williams left the Wisconsin game early with a knee injury but was moving well in practice. If he can’t go, Zook is confident in the speedy Eddie McGee. Jake Christensen is throwing for 192 yards a game and has 10 touchdowns to two interceptions on the season. Iowa is dead last in scoring in the league.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

RUNNING BACKS:

Rashard Mendenhall may have finally caught the nation’s attention after last week’s performance. He’s scored a touchdown in nine straight games and is averaging 128.7 yards a game on the ground this season. Iowa’s Albert Young is averaging 66.7 yards on Saturdays and has split time with Damian Sims. The Hawkeyes are also last in the conference in rushing.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

WIDE RECEIVERS:

Arrelious Benn is causing all sorts of problems for defenses, but after leaving the Wisconsin game early when he re-aggravated a shoulder injury, it remains unclear how much he can contribute this week. He’s worn a red jersey in practice this week as a precaution. Iowa’s Andy Brodell could be out for the season with a hamstring injury and Dominique Douglas and Anthony Bowman are suspended. In their place, three redshirt freshmen are seeing most of the action. Former Iowa, now-Indianapolis Colts tight end Dallas Clark will be in attendance as an honorary captain, but he can’t save this receiving corps without putting on pads.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

OFFENSIVE LINE:

The Illini lead the conference and are fifth in the nation with 261.2 rushing yards a game. Mendenhall is quick to share credit for the ground success with his blockers, who have also only allowed seven sacks. Iowa has given up an astounding 25 sacks including five last week against Penn State. The Hawkeyes have dealt with injuries on the line and as a result have a weakened rushing attack.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

LINEBACKERS:

Freshman Martez Wilson showed his strength and speed last weekend and is seeing more snaps as the season progresses. J Leman remains a beast in the middle, averaging 11.8 tackles per contest, which is fifth nationally. Iowa’s senior backer Mike Klinkenborg is questionable for the game after sitting out the past two games with a head injury. Mike Humpal leads the team with 55 tackles, including three for a loss.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

DEFENSIVE LINE:

The Illini front stepped up and held running back P.J. Hill to 83 yards last week. The unit has tallied 20 sacks through six games and has great depth with key reserves like freshman Josh Brent. Bryan Mattison anchors the Iowa line and has recorded four sacks this season. The Hawkeyes are giving up 113.8 yards a game on the ground and just 16.7 points a contest.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

SECONDARY:

Zook shied away after the Wisconsin game from calling his defense a “bend but don’t break” scheme. The Illini defense allowed 392 passing yards but Vontae Davis and Kevin Mitchell came up with fourth-quarter interceptions to preserve the lead. The Hawkeyes are 25th in the nation in pass defense (190.5 yards a game) and have recorded eight interceptions.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Jason Reda remained perfect on the year, hitting one field goal from 50 yards last week. Punter Anthony Santella regressed last week, averaging 34.2 yards on five punts. Iowa place kickers are five for 10 on the season but they have had success with punter Ryan Donahue who is averaging 39 yards a punt and has placed 14 inside the 20-yard line. The Hawkeye returners average 23.5 and 13.9 yards per return on kickoffs and punts, respectively.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

COACHES:

Ron Zook is riding a five-game winning streak and has his team and fans believing. To extend it he’ll have to beat Iowa for the first time in his career and do so on the road. Kirk Ferentz is in his ninth year at Iowa and 34-33 in conference play while leading the team to a strong home record over the years.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW