Position by position breakdown: Illinois vs. Ball State

Fans in the I-block sint Hail to thee Illinois during the Ohio vs. Illinois game on October 14, 2006. Illinois lost to Ohio 20-17. Erica Magda

Fans in the I-block sint “Hail to thee Illinois” during the Ohio vs. Illinois game on October 14, 2006. Illinois lost to Ohio 20-17. Erica Magda

QUARTERBACKS

Zook replaced Juice Williams last game in the second series of the second half, but neither he nor backup Eddie McGee could find the end zone down the stretch. Ball State’s best playmaker is sophomore Nate Davis. The Ohio native has tallied 20 touchdown passes and thrown for more than 200 yards in each of his last seven games.

ADVANTAGE: DRAW

RUNNING BACKS

Rashard Mendenhall needs 76 yards for 1,000 on the season. Mendenhall is averaging 115.5 yards a game on the ground and is the team’s second leading receiver with 28.2 yards a game. MiQuale Lewis is out indefinitely with a knee injury and in his place the Cardinals are using two true freshmen backs. Frank Edmonds is leading Ball State with six rushing touchdowns.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

WIDE RECEIVERS

Arrelious Benn is the Illini’s most dangerous weapon, averaging 57.4 yards a game at receiver. But it was Jacob Willis who caught the lone touchdown pass last week. The Cardinals’ Dante Love is 21st in the nation in receiving yards. Like Benn, the former high school quarterback is also a threat on kick returns.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

OFFENSIVE LINE

The Illini front five has done a good job protecting its quarterbacks and much of the credit for the running success is due to the big guys blocking. The Illini are first in the conference in rushing and 10th in the nation with 230.1 yards a game. Ball State is rushing for 163.1 yards per contest. The Cardinals’ line has allowed just 10 sacks this season and does a great job pass blocking but has yet to see a group as talented as the Illini’s defensive front.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

DEFENSIVE LINE

The Illini defensive front is 11th in the nation with 26 sacks. The school record is 40. David Lindquist had a career-best two sacks last weekend against Michigan. Ball State features a 31-year-old defensive end on its line as part of a unit that is giving up more than 200 yards a game on the ground.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

LINEBACKERS

J Leman made the latest cut and is a semi-finalist for both the Lombardi and Butkus awards. The conference’s leading tackler is flanked by Antonio Steele, the team leader in tackles last weekend. The Cardinals’ Bryant Haines missed time last season due to injury but he has returned to the team at full strength and leads the team with 82 tackles. Fifth-year senior Mike Dorulla has 70 tackles on the year – seven more than his previous three years combined.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The Illini secondary will be tested by the arm of Davis this weekend. Illinois will need to improve on its 252 yards against average. Kevin Mitchell snagged his third interception and the team’s ninth of the season last week. The Cardinals’ secondary has notched 12 interceptions on the season, including three in each of its last two ball games. Converted running back B.J. Hill has picked five throws this season and blocked a field goal.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Illini special teams unit had its roughest game to date this season against the Wolverines. Penalties, missed kicks and dropped punts combined to hurt the Illini’s chance of knocking off Michigan. Not to mention fans have seen less and less of Arrelious Benn returning kicks since his breakout game and Anthony Santella’s punting is still suspect. Ball State’s punter Chris Miller is second in the nation and is averaging 47.17 yards per kick. Its kick returners are 28th in the nation and place-kicker Jake Hogue is 10-16 on field goals this season.

ADVANTAGE: BALL STATE

HEAD COACHES

Ron Zook couldn’t celebrate his contract extension with a victory last weekend but winning his sixth game this season would be worthy of a celebration. Zook came under fire after the Iowa loss, but winning solves any criticism. Ball State’s Brady Hoke is one of 18 coaches across the nation coaching at his alma mater. The fifth-year coach is 20-34 as head coach. He served as one of Lloyd Carr’s assistants at Michigan from 1995-2002.

ADVANTAGE: ILLINOIS