Illini look to slow down Hoosier passing attack

By now, Illinois is familiar with the atmosphere of a homecoming football game, having played in the opposing team’s homecoming matchup each of the last two weekends.

On Saturday, the Illini will finally experience the other end as they play host to the Indiana Hoosiers while the University celebrates its 100th homecoming.

“It’s good to be back, coming back home,” Illinois head coach Ron Zook said. “You know, we were home for a long, long time and I didn’t realize how much you appreciate that until you are on the road for a couple weeks. Even though it was only two games, it seems like it has been a long time since we’ve been back. I know our guys are looking forward to coming back and being here at homecoming.”

However, Zook also cautioned his players not to get too caught up in the festivities.

“Obviously, as I told them, homecoming is for the people who have already been here,” Zook said. “Our job is to be a part of the show and put on the best show that we possibly can.”

And while the Illini will be doing their best to put on a show for the scores of returning alumni and fans, they will also be trying to stop an Indiana team that is more than capable of putting on a show of their own.

The Hoosiers enter Champaign boasting one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks, ranking fifth in the nation in passing yards per game. They are led by fifth-year senior quarterback Ben Chappell, who ranks in the nation’s top 10 in passing yards, completions, touchdowns and completion percentage.

“If you look at just what he has accomplished, it is unbelievable,” Zook said. “In my opinion, he’s the best guy we’ve seen, the best quarterback we have seen this year.”

So far this season, Chappell and the rest of the offense have done nothing but put points on the board. The Hoosiers have scored less than 35 points just once this season against Ohio State on Oct. 9, and Indiana currently ranks 27th in the nation in scoring offense.

“They’re definitely going to throw the ball around,” cornerback Tavon Wilson said. “Somebody just told me that their (starting) running back (sophomore Darius Willis) was out for the year, and I didn’t even know that; they throw the ball so much.”

“It’s definitely gonna be a great opportunity for me and the other players in the secondary (to make some plays),” he added. “We’re just looking forward to the challenge, just like we do every week.”

One player looking forward to that opportunity perhaps more than anyone else is linebacker Martez Wilson.

Martez will likely be asked to help in pass coverage more than in recent games, similar to the way he was used against Missouri in the season opener. And while many people were disappointed in his performance in that opening game, Martez said he is up to the task.

“The first game was my first game back (from a neck injury), so I was a little shaky,” Martez said. “But I think this game I’ll be more prepared for a pass attack such as Indiana’s. This game also allows me to show my coverage skills and my ball skills as well. I think this is just another game to show my improvement.”

While Martez and the rest of the defense seem prepared for the challenge, Zook said the best way to contain the Indiana offense is to keep the ball out of its hands.

“The biggest thing to do is keep the ball away from them as much as we can,” Zook said. “I think that’s the important thing. Offensively, we want to try and do the same things we have been doing, just get it in the end zone. The best way to stop that offense is our offense.”