Breaking it down: Kent State vs. Illinois
Who: Kent State vs. Illinois
When: Friday, 8 p.m. CT
Where: Memorial Stadium, Illinois
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Illinois -14
Matchup to Watch: Nate Holley vs. Illini skillplayers
Illinois will get to ease into 2015 by taking on a two-win MAC school that probably won’t be much better in 2015. But the Illini will have to deal with safety Nate Holley, who doesn’t make life very fun for opposing ball carriers. As a sophomore, he was third in the nation in tackles. Illnois can expect Holley to be everywhere against its pass-heavy attack. Wes Lunt won’t have go-to receiver Mikey Dudek at his disposal because he’s still recovering from a torn ACL. Geronimo Allison and Josh Ferguson will likely become quite familiar with Holley by day’s end. Unfortunately for Kent State, he might not have much help.
Thing I’m excited to see: Bill Cubit’s debut
For all the negative attention Tim Beckman received in the wake of his firing, Bill Cubit has garnered nothing but praise for how he’s handled an awkward situation. Now, it’s time to see how he can right the Illini ship on the field. Can he be the leader Illinois needs at such a tumultuous time? It’s not like Cubit is unfamiliar with making crucial decisions, but those decisions will have a greater impact than the ones he made at Western Michigan. How will he protect Wes Lunt? Will his playcalling be aggressive in short down situations? Will Illinois look lost or will pick up where it left off at the end of the 2014 regular season? We won’t get the full answer to those questions, but Saturday will give us our first hint.
Number to Remember: 100
That’s how many points Kent State allowed in its last two games against Big Ten foes. And how many did they score? Well, let’s just say the Golden Flashes scored as many as you and I did. We’ll give them some slack for last year’s 66-0 drubbing in Columbus. After all, those were the eventual-national champs. But history suggests that Kent State doesn’t have the athletes to hang around with a Big Ten team, even if that team fired its head coach five days ago.
Prediction: Illinois 42, Kent State 17
The Illini offense shouldn’t see too much of an effect from Beckman’s firing. This group should still look like the one that scored 34 points per game in non-conference play last year. And considering Kent State was 116th in the country in total offense last year, even the depleted Illinois defense shouldn’t have too many problems slowing it down. A blowout victory would certainly ease some tension in Champaign.