Noteworthy items from Saturday’s win against Hoosiers

Editor’s note: Every week, Gordon will give his take on nine aspects from the football game and highlight the most important things about each subject.

You may see Illinois’ 6-0 record and see a team that has plowed through its bowl of Lucky Charms by picking out the five sweetest marshmallows and an oat cluster in Arizona State. Well, fine. Opponents’ combined records notwithstanding, that’s a relatively fair criticism.

I see a team that has won a half dozen games in nearly as many different ways — through the air, on the ground, in primetime, in prime letdown time, by the hair of its chin and now on the road in blowout fashion.

I see an offense whose strength may just be its versatility on a macro scale. Flood the box and see an increasingly on-target *Nathan Scheelhaase (1)* find A.J. Jenkins in stride — as he did when No. 8 was covered and uncovered alike on Saturday. Do the opposite and the stable of backs can inflict damage 4.7 yards at a time.

I see a defense that continues to find playmaking ability from new places. Saturday it was Week One hero *Houston Bates (2)* who shined in Jonathan Brown’s absence (suspension). The linebacker core — already one of the deepest on the roster — now has an even more contentious battle opposite senior leader Ian Thomas after Bates came away from Saturday’s game with seven solo tackles.

Cornerback *Tavon Wilson (3)* was more active in the backfield than he’s ever been, surpassing his previous career high of 1.5 tackles for loss by two, including a sack. Most importantly, Wilson was behind the line of scrimmage when a Whitney Mercilus hit on Indiana quarterback Dusty Kiel late in the first quarter resulted in a free ball awaiting a 66-yard return for a touchdown.

In all fairness, calling Indiana a measuring stick is a bit like using Twizzlers to draft a blueprint, but oftentimes the subtle missteps of a blowout win are as valuable a sample as any in diagnosing potential issues down the road. A struggle that emerges (however slightly) against a struggling opponent can be an indicator of a problem that could be inflamed by a better team.

Here are two key signs from Saturday’s game that should be monitored in the upcoming five-game stretch. In this string of Big Ten contests, the Illini will take on five national top-30 defenses, including four teams that are ranked in at least one major poll.

*Adam Replogle’s (4) big day at DT*

Indiana’s 6-foot-3, 290 pound junior had a dominant first half, as he sacked Scheelhaase twice, forcing a fumble on the second to set up first and goal from the Illinois 3-yard line.

Replogle and freshman end Bobby Richardson (playing in his second collegiate game) gave Illinois fits up front. Size was undoubtedly a factor, as the Hoosiers boast one of the bulkier interior lines in the conference.

Ohio State has been hurled in the media blender this season but it hasn’t affected the defense. Even with ace end Nathan Williams hampered by a knee injury, the blue chip-laden Buckeyes present a threat similar to Indiana’s up front.

Head coach Luke Fickell will roll out the Vince Wilfork-like *Johnathan Hankins (5)* at defensive tackle this coming Saturday in a matchup that could give Illinois trouble. Hankins tips the scales at 335 pounds and can still get upfield. The sophomore has 4.5 tackles for loss this season to go with two sacks. He, 290-pound nose tackle *Garrett Goebel (6)* and blue-chip freshman *Michael Bennett (7)*, who has two sacks playing at tackle, represent a greater challenge than Replogle and the Indiana unit. Given the Buckeyes’ talent at linebacker, Jeff Allen and company will scarcely be able to rely on the double team — which means the offensive line will have its work cut out for it.

The following game, Oct. 22 at Purdue, is one of the most underdiscussed games on Illinois’ schedule. The Boilermakers have endured two crippling injuries at quarterback, but have a stout defense nonetheless. *Kawann Short (8)*, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound junior, is an All-Big Ten hopeful who has picked up six tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks this season. De facto starter Bruce Gaston — who likewise offers the Boilermakers high-end size at 303 pounds — has three tackles for a loss from the interior as well.

*Fumbles*

Illinois coughed up the ball three times Saturday and lost it twice to drop them to 110th in the nation with eight fumbles lost.

*Donovonn Young (9)* and Scheelhaase both cost Illinois points when the game was close in the first half. Though the defense bailed the two out and yielded six points combined on the two possessions, teams like Michigan and Wisconsin will make Illinois pay dearly if it coughs up the ball in prime territory.

Ohio State will travel to Champaign tied for 44th in the nation in turnovers forced with 10, while Penn State and Michigan are among those tied for 15th in turnovers forced with 14 apiece. Michigan in particular has been opportunistic on defense, recovering 10 fumbles alone — good for a first-place tie in the nation.

The Illini’s final six opponents have caused 54 turnovers combined, compared to 61 forced by the five Bowl Subdivision teams Illinois has defeated this year — meaning the Illini figure to receive a slight break in that regard.

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