Indiana-Illinois Positional Comparison

h2. Quarterback

Indiana’s Dusty Kiel (older brother of Gunner) will likely start for a second straight week as Edward Wright-Baker continues to recover from an ankle injury. Kiel completed 22 of 45 passes for just 184 yards last week in a 16-10 loss to Penn State. Meanwhile, Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase — recruited by Wilson while at Oklahoma — is coming off a career-high 391-yard performance against Northwestern.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h2. Running Backs

Expect the Hoosiers secondary to give Scheelhaase’s arm more respect in wake of his Week Five outburst, enabling Donovonn Young and Troy Pollard to gash Indiana’s anemic run defense. The Hoosiers allow a Big Ten-worst 190.4 yards per game while also ranking last in rushing yards per game (126.0).

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h2. Receivers

In the preseason this would have been a tie, but coach Kevin Johns’ receiving core is in a serious slump. That, plus the offensive decline spurred by the graduation of quarterback Ben Chappell, has meant decreased production from senior Damarlo Belcher and highly touted sophomores Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h2. Offensive Line

Indiana has experienced bookends in tackles Andrew McDonald (18 career starts) and Chicago native Justin Pagán (30), who combined to allow 0.5 sacks last year. However, the line as a whole has regressed in 2011 and has allowed more sacks in five games (13) than all of last season (12).

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h2. Defensive Line

This is perhaps one of four position groups on the Indiana roster that are of true Big Ten caliber. The interior line boasts a trio of beefy standouts in juniors Larry Black, Jr. (305 pounds), Mick Mentzer (305) and Adam Replogle (290). The Illini unit, among the most potent in the country, is led by Whitney Mercilus and Michael Buchanan. Both rank top 10 nationally in sacks per game with 1.1 and 0.9.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h2. Linebackers

Losing breakout sophomore Jonathan Brown to a one-game suspension will detract from the Illini defense’s gamebreaking ability, though Houston Bates is a capable replacement. Bates is joined by Ian Thomas to form a surprisingly deep position group. Indiana’s linebackers are weak overall but the platoon is headed by an All-Big Ten candidate in middle linebacker Jeff Thomas.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h2. Defensive Backs

Illinois currently ranks seventh in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed (216.6 per game), though it is in the context of a “bend but don’t break” philosophy. That’s nothing, though, compared to Indiana, which starts a pair of freshmen at safety in the Hardin brothers — Forisse and Drew (who redshirted last year) — and will struggle throughout 2011.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

h2. Special Teams

K Mitch Ewald is 5-for-7 on the year and 2-for-4 from 40-49 yards for IU, while teammate Adam Pines has struggled to crack the top 10 in punting in the Big Ten (37.5 yards per punt). Illinois has similarly struggled in the punt game, though K Derek Dimke is a perfect 7-of-7 on field goals. Indiana (117th in the nation) and Illinois (116th) are both cellar dwellers when it comes to returning kicks.

(Edge: *Tie*)

h2. Coaching

Kevin Wilson is as competent a first-year head coach as there is in the nation. The Illinois staff has made significant adjustments at halftime in consecutive weeks, though, when they lost left tackle Jeff Allen in the second half of the Western Michigan game and saw a brand new defensive setup in the first half against Northwestern.

h2. X-factor

Illinois is flying high at 5-0 while Indiana has dropped demoralizing games to the Sun Belt’s North Texas and the MAC’s Ball State. The Hoosiers are squarely in rebuilding mode as they await the arrival of Kevin Wilson’s recruits. One positive for Indiana: Wilson has turned the team’s -7 turnover margin in 2010 into a surprising 3 mark this season.

(Edge: *Illinois*)

_Gordon Voit is a senior in English. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @GordonVoit._