Arizona State QB a tall order for Illinois defensive line

Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has a plan to stop 6-foot-8 Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler.

“We’re going to bring our ladders in our back pocket,” Koenning joked.

Although the game against the Illini will be the fifth collegiate start of Osweiler’s career, he’s already become a dangerous weapon for Arizona State. He passed for 615 yards and five touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ first two games, leading Koenning to diagram his defensive scheme around the junior quarterback.

“You put all the rest of it aside, he throws the ball extremely well,” Koenning said. “He’s playing with a whole bunch of confidence. There aren’t too many quarterbacks on third and six that can throw a hitch to the wide part of the field. It’s hard to defend the whole field.”

Illini defensive tackle Akeem Spence said the key to stopping Osweiler is to apply pressure. Last Saturday, Illinois’ defense sacked South Dakota State quarterback Thomas O’Brien three times and hurried him twice.

“Guys have been working hard,” Spence said. “We like to tell ourselves we have no superstars. We’re trying to get the best pass rushers on the field and keep guys fresh.”

Junior defensive tackle Glenn Foster has received a considerable amount of playing time next to Spence in the Illini’s first two games.

Foster, along with redshirt freshman Austin Tietsma, sophomore Tim Kynard, converted offensive lineman Craig Wilson and senior Wisdom Onyegbule have given Koenning and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore some depth to work with on the defensive line.

“Coach Gilmore had said that (Foster) was really playing up to speed,” Koenning said. “He was really confident with him. I’m going with what Keith says on that. No. 85 (Whitney Mercilus) is going to continue to get better and better. No. 94 (Spence) is going to come back as he continues practicing and becoming a regular. We have to keep getting it out of No. 96 (Onyegbule) and Craig Wilson. As he gets more reps, the better he’s going to get … That whole unit ought to just improve.”

Spence said when he watched Arizona State on tape, the first thing he noticed was their size. At, 6-foot-5, 320-pounds, Wilson could give the Illini a body to match up against, what he called, an athletic Sun Devils offensive line.

“Going into the season, I’m going against a lot of vets from other teams,” Wilson said. “They’ve been playing the position for quite a while and they’re pretty good at it. I’m not taking anything away from other teams but these are some big boys.”

The Illini defense — currently ranked sixth in the nation in run defense, allowing an average of 42.6 yards per game — has only allowed 18 total points this season and just one touchdown.

Gilmore said he’s proud of his defensive line thus far but he won’t feel right until it can pressure Osweiler and stop the Sun Devils offense this Saturday.

“We’re trying to work through a few new things, a few new schemes,” Gilmore said. “I’m sure as the week progresses we’ll get those things polished up. It’s always a work in progress, and until we win the game I’m not satisfied.”