Daily Illini Sports podcast discusses football season opener with Wyoming beat writer

Junior+running+back+Chase+Brown+runs+down+the+field+with+the+ball+during+the+Spring+Orange+and+Blue+game+on+April+21.+The+Daily+Illini+Sports+podcast+goes+into+the+football+season+as+the+home+opener+comes+this+Saturday+against+Wyoming.+

Sydney Laput

Junior running back Chase Brown runs down the field with the ball during the Spring Orange and Blue game on April 21. The Daily Illini Sports podcast goes into the football season as the home opener comes this Saturday against Wyoming.

By Carson Gourdie, Sports Video Editor

Daily Illini Sports Podcast Episode 50: Wyoming-Illinois preview

No Description

Two ranked road wins and only two losses by double digits. Beat Northwestern – handily – for the first time since the Obama administration. The Illinois football program made great strides in improving the defense and trench play under head coach Bret Bielema. 

However, an inept passing game doomed Illinois’ chances to secure its second bowl game in three seasons. In the offseason, Bielema made adjustments with his new offensive coordinator, Barry Lunney, and added senior transfer quarterback Tommy DeVito from Syracuse. 

With a likely spread attack and a Ryan Walters-led defense, the Illini hope to break through a wide open West Division and be relevant in November. But for the bowl to become realistic, the Illini have to win manageable games – like this Saturday against the Wyoming Cowboys.

Casper Star Tribune’s Wyoming football beat writer, Ryan Thorson, sat down with the Daily Illini Sports podcast team and discussed what Illinois fans should expect to see from the Cowboys. 

 

Offense:

The Cowboys have been consistent bowl contenders under ninth-year head coach Craig Bohl. However, the Wyoming faithful would like to see the offensive unit make adjustments in order to compete for titles, according to Thorburn.

“There’s a faction of the fanbase that would like to see them get more creative on offense,” Thorburn said. “(But Wyoming) isn’t doing that. They’re going to run the ball, use tight ends and fullbacks.”

Last season, the Cowboys finished 117th in passing offense out of 130 teams. However, even when the program had current Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, the passing offense never lit up secondaries. In Allen’s senior year, the quarterback finished with only 16 touchdown passes and less than 2,000 yards through the air. 

Thorburn added that both of Wyoming’s starting quarterbacks have transferred from last season and that Andrew Peasley, a Utah State transfer, will likely start on Saturday. 

“(The staff) thinks Peasley is more accurate, quicker than the other (QBs),” Thorburn said. “He’s smaller and quicker, and they want him to pass 20 times and complete 15 of them. If he does that, they have a shot.”

Peasley saw limited action as an Aggie, throwing only 130 passes over the past four seasons. While his time with Utah State was limited, Peasley has shown an ability to be a dual threat quarterback, as he averaged nearly six yards per carry last season. 

If Peasley can extend drives with his legs, it could cause trouble for the Illini defense. Last season, Rutgers quarterback Nick Vedral’s successful read option plays caught Illinois off-guard, helping the Scarlet Knights extend drives and knock off a confused Illini, 20-14. 

The passing attack will be a huge factor whether the Cowboys can pull off the upset. However, Peasley will be without the Cowboys top pass-catcher from last season, Isaiah Neyor, who transferred to the Texas Longhorns after a breakout season. 

“Last season, both quarterbacks leaned heavily on Neyor in passing situations,” Thorburn said. “(The wide receiver unit) will be more by committee this year. They don’t have a star like that. 

With Neyor out, Thorburn expects the tight ends to be utilized heavily in the passing game after seasons of being more focused as blockers. 

“Peasley needs bootlegs to the tight ends,” Thorburn said. 

Defense 

The Cowboys defense is replacing a lot of starters, with two corners, three defensive ends and its middle linebacker leaving the program, but Thorburn claims that the defense could improve via “addition by subtraction,” because the talent that left was not stout. 

The Cowboys finished with the 99th ranked rush defense, which could help jumpstart the Illini offense quickly with returning running backs Chase Brown and Josh McCray in the backfield. The Cowboys will rely on Easton Gibbs, a weakside linebacker who transitioned to middle linebacker, to fill the hole left by Chad Muma, an All-American drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars this past off-season. 

“(Gibbs) isn’t an NFL prototype, but he’s going to be a 100-tackle-type guy who’s really fast,” Thorburn said. 

Thorburn said that Wyoming feels confident about the middle of the defense with its returning defensive tackles, new middle linebacker and about the secondary after the addition of Ole Miss transfer Jakorey Hawkins and Wisconsin transfer Deron Harrell. However, “defensive end is really a problem,” according to Thorburn. 

After two defensive ends transferred and their top returner suffered a serious injury, the position group has questions about whether they can apply consistent pressure and stop the run. Thorburn believes it can help DeVito in the passing game, as he will have more time to throw and find open targets. 

With the defensive ends being a question mark, Thorburn expects the Cowboys to dial blitzes from linebackers and the secondary to force pressure.

Final Analysis

Last season, the Cowboys were the third oldest team in the nation. Now, they’re the third youngest in the nation. But despite the fresh faces, Thorburn is expecting a tight battle in Champaign, as he predicts both teams will probably try to establish the run. While he doesn’t expect the Cowboys to pull off the upset, covering the 10-point spread seems realistic as long as they avoid penalties and turnovers. 

 

@gourdiereport

[email protected]