Daily Illini Sports Podcast predicts Illinois football success alongside Virginia beat writer

Running+back+Chase+Brown+catches+the+ball+while+heading+towards+the+end+zone+during+the+game+against+Wyoming+on+Aug.+27.+Mike+Barber+of+the+Richmond+Times-Dispatch+shares+his+predictions+and+inputs+for+the+upcoming+match+this+Saturday+on+the+latest+Daily+Illini+Sports+Podcast.+

Sydney Laput

Running back Chase Brown catches the ball while heading towards the end zone during the game against Wyoming on Aug. 27. Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch shares his predictions and inputs for the upcoming match this Saturday on the latest Daily Illini Sports Podcast.

By Carson Gourdie and Josh Pietsch

Daily Illini Sports Podcast: Episode 52; Virginia beat writer leans toward an Illini victory

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Virginia dominated Illinois last season at home, 42-14. However, while the Illini seek revenge over the Cavaliers, it seems like they are facing a completely new team.

Head coach Bronco Mendenhall left the program and was replaced by Tony Elliott. Virginia is replacing virtually its entire offensive line, and the offensive scheme run by Virginia has been tweaked. 

Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Mike Barber, who has covered the Virginia football program for six seasons, discussed what the Illini should expect to see on Saturday, and even leaned towards an Illini victory.

 

Offense:

Brennan Armstrong is one of the most established and productive quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Coming off of a season where he threw for 31 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions, Armstrong produced one of the most prolific Cavalier offenses in school history – despite the fact that Virginia finished 6-6 last season. 

However, despite Armstrong’s successfully testing secondaries vertically last season, Barber believes that Elliott wants his veteran quarterback to become more of a game manager. 

“It’s a very different offense from last year,” Barber said. “(Armstrong) is a better player, he goes through his progressions and reads more quickly. (But) they’re not going to ask him to throw it 50 times.” 

Barber said that Armstrong was critical of his performance last week against Virginia, claiming that “he was still in last year’s mindset.” Elliott wants Armstrong to convert more underneath routes instead of going over the top, which could help the offense eat more clock and keep their defense off the field. 

Barber believes that “there were times last year where (throwing deep passes) was forced,” but they could get away with it because of the personnel at wide receiver. But by losing key pass catchers and returning one of the worst defenses in the ACC, Armstrong will be forced to dial back on the explosive plays. 

 

Defense:

The Virginia defense struggled last season, allowing nearly 32 points and 225 rushing yards a game. Barber doesn’t expect the Virginia defense to be more talented, but he does believe the scheme suits their needs better. 

Barber claims that Virginia will play a very conservative style of defense, electing not to pressure the Illini with too many blitzes. Instead, Barber thinks this defense is built to “bend but not break,” meaning giving up a lot of yards while limiting the explosive plays. 

Against Richmond, Virginia limited the big plays, with the biggest passing gain being only 17 yards. Virginia has run a 4-3 front so far this season, with an occasional blitz from an outside linebacker. The secondary has played a “3-quarters deep” defense, which helps keep pass catchers from getting past the corners and safeties for big plays. However, Barber doesn’t think Virginia’s run defense will be able to keep up against the Illini.

“If you’re Chase Brown and you watch that Richmond opener against Virginia, you are licking your lips,” Barber said. 

The Richmond Spiders ran for over 170 yards against the Cavaliers, and Barber believes that the Big Ten offensive line and someone with Brown’s capabilities will probably be able to register “devastating runs.” 

Just like against Indiana, who gave up over 500 yards of offense to Illini but held them to 20 points, the Illini will have opportunities to convert in the red zone, but will have to clean up penalties and turnovers. 

 

Final Analysis:

Barber does expect Virginia to cover the 4-point spread, even though he doesn’t think they will win outright. Concerns about the lack of depth at offensive line and wide receiver, combined with Brown’s ability to run the ball over a shaky defensive line make Barber think Illini can pull away at home. 

However, Barber does think this could become a wide-open game if Armstrong can successfully pick apart the secondaries with intermediate and short passes and keep Brown off the field. 

 

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