Illini football takes on Miami (Ohio) on Dads Weekend

What’s the difference between being 2-1 this year and being 2-1 last year for Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown?

“The chance to be 3-1 this weekend.”

The Illini started 2-1 after wins over Southern Illinois and Cincinnati and a loss to Washington. But 2-1 in 2013 feels a lot different than 2-1 did in 2012.

“We have more of an identity,” quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase said. “It’s more just a comfort of knowing what type of team we want to be each Saturday when we walk out there.

“I don’t necessarily think we felt that last year.”

The Illini have a chance to get that third win — something they never did in 2012 — Saturday when Miami (Ohio) comes to Memorial Stadium.

The Redhawks (0-3) come into this weekend following a 14-0 loss to the same Cincinnati team the Illini overpowered three weeks ago in a 45-17 victory.

Head coach Tim Beckman said the opportunity to watch Miami on tape against a team his squad has already faced does have some advantages.

“Knowing the talent that Cincinnati has and just playing against them (helps),” Beckman said.

Beckman is also familiar with Miami quarterback Austin Boucher from his days at Toledo. He and his staff recruited Boucher to play for the Rockets. Boucher actually turned down an offer to play for Ohio State, although with the talent the Buckeyes have under center, it’s not likely he would have played.

The Redhawks use a run-based option attack similar to what Georgia Tech and Air Force run. There’s likely to be running backs in on every play, sometimes multiple running backs.

Miami has run the ball 106 times through three games, compared to just 53 attempted passes. The Redhawks also have 11 different players with a rushing attempt. In comparison, the Illini have only 8.

“Any time you play an option offense, it makes guys have to be assignment-sound,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “We’re working extremely hard to prepare for all of the cut blocking that you’re going to see, and just making sure everyone knows who they have every snap.”

Despite the willingness to try something different, the option hasn’t brought the Redhawks much success. Miami has been outgained by opponents 1635 yards to 448, and outscored 85-21. Against Cincinnati, the Redhawks offense managed only 87 yards and four first downs the entire game.

Boucher is 21-for-52 passing on the year with one touchdown and three interceptions. The Redhawks leading rusher, Austin Gearing, has a total of 59 yards on the season.

Even with the poor numbers, senior defensive end Tim Kynard said the young Illinois defense isn’t going to overlook Miami.

“We’re just telling (the younger players) not to look past them,” Kynard said. “We’re not trying to downplay their team or players. We’ve got to contain their running attack.”

Coming off a bye week — or as Kynard says the coaching staff likes to call it, a “better week,” because it’s a chance for the team to focus on itself, not an opponent — the Illini have had extra time to prepare for the Redhawks.

And Saturday will give Illinois a chance to do what it couldn’t do last year.

“Just to be 3-1 and having the chance to win football games is tough,” Kynard said. “We talk about it every day, taking it day-by-day and week-by-week.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @sean_hammond.