Matchups to watch in the Illinois v. North Carolina game


Austin Yattoni

Illinois wide receiver Malik Turner (11) celebrates with offensive lineman Austin Schmidt (57) scoring the first touchdown of the game against Murray State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 3. The Illini won 52-3.

By The Daily Illini Sports Staff

Illinois Offensive Line vs. North Carolina Defensive Line:

Illinois should be able to upgrade an offensive line that impressed last weekend. The Illini hope to return center Joe Spencer from injury for Saturday’s primetime matchup. The line held the Murray State defense in check, allowing just two sacks on quarterback Wes Lunt. The line also worked excellently in tandem with the backfield — the Illini racked up 305 yards on the ground. The Tar Heel defensive line had a difficult task at hand last weekend against Georgia running back Nick Chubb. The defensive line allowed 289 yards on the ground and had four sacks against Georgia’s quarterbacks. Last year, Illini running back Josh Ferguson tallied 133 yards against the North Carolina defense. If Illinois’ starting running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn can attack the holes in the Tar Heel defensive line, expect him to have a big night.

Ryan Switzer vs. inexperienced Illini secondary

Watch out for North Carolina’s speedster, Ryan Switzer. The dangerous receiver is coming off of a huge season where he caught 54 passes for 693 yards and six touchdowns. Where he really excels is returning punts — he has seven punt return touchdowns in his career, including his 85-yard return against Illinois in 2015. The inexperienced Illini secondary will have have to rely on safety Taylor Barton, their lone veteran presence in the secondary, to not let Switzer break one deep. The special teams will have their hands full as well with Switzer’s ability on kick returns. As long as they can stay in their lanes, they’ll be alright — but, that won’t keep Illini fans from holding their breath every time No. 3 touches the football.

Battle on the Sidelines

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Perhaps the largest battle of the game will be taking place from each sideline between two of the game’s best coaching names, Larry Fedora and Lovie Smith. Between Smith’s NFL-pedigree and Fedora’s recent success at North Carolina, plenty of eyes will be on the two head coaches. Not to mention, the contrast between the coaches is interesting. Fedora is a highly-regarded offensive schemer, while Smith is a frequently hailed defensive specialist. Illini fans will certainly still be smarting from North Carolina’s offensive outburst in last year’s game when they put up 471 yards of total offense en route to their 48-14 victory over the Illini. Hopefully this year’s defense, which looked stout in Illinois’ victory over Murray State, will come to play against the Tar Heels.

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