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Friday, May 6, 2016

Hoosiers, Illini hoping for win in border rivalry

Friday, October 17, 2008


Associated Press Writer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A week after they were stunned in a home upset by Minnesota, Illinois will look to breathe a little life into their suddenly disappointing season when 2-4 Indiana comes to town on Saturday.

And, hey, why not? Iowa did it last week with a 45-9 thumping at Indiana that turned the Hawkeyes, now 4-3, into a winning team. But Illinois coach Ron Zook is cautioning his players to avoid overconfidence.

He warned last week that Minnesota would give Illinois -- now 3-3, and 2-4 in the Big Ten -- all it wanted, and he was right. The Gophers beat the Illini 27-20.

Now he's saying the same sort of thing about the Hoosiers (0-3 in the Big Ten).

"In the three years that I've been here, we always get their best game and there's no reason to think that we won't get their best game Saturday night," Zook said.

Indiana, after last weeks' home drubbing, will be looking for the same kind of jolt as Illinois Saturday night, and might be happy to be playing on the road. Hoosier fans booed the team loudly and regularly against Iowa.

The game is Hoosiers' last on the road before a run of three home games and might be their last, best shot at reviving their season.

"I think we've looked at each of the last few games that way, so this game is the next one that you look at that way," Indiana coach Bill Lynch said. "Obviously, going on the road, going to Illinois, yeah it's a big football game for us."

While the Illini were the surprise toast of the Big Ten last year at 9-4, Indiana quietly had their best year in a long time, finishing 7-6. Both teams went to bowl games, Illinois the Rose and Indiana to the Insight Bowl.

This year, neither team is anywhere near a bowl berth.

"We're two teams that desperately need a win to finish the season strong," Illinois quarterback Juice Williams said.

Williams is coming off back-to-back career games. He set stadium records for combined yards in a win at Michigan -- 431 yards, plus two rushing TDs and two passing -- and the home loss to Minnesota -- 503 yards.

But against Minnesota, Williams threw an interception and fumbled the ball -- two of Illinois' three turnovers that cost the Illini points and gave Minnesota the ball in a game where Illinois otherwise had the advantage in possession.

"We cannot turn the ball over," Zook said. "When you look at possessions of a game, defensively we were on the field four times in the first half. I think offense had five possessions in the first half. You can't give the team another possession."

Williams' counterpart, quarterback Kellen Lewis, who didn't play in the second half against Iowa, is questionable for Saturday, Lynch told reporters this week.

"It's a high ankle sprain," Lynch said. "We're hoping by the end of the week we can get him back out there."

Lewis is the heart of the Hoosier offense. His 404 rushing yards -- 7.1 a carry -- are tops on the team, and he's passed for 925 yards and five touchdowns.

Lewis' backup, Ben Chappell, has played in five games, too, and thrown for 328 yards.

But Zook doesn't think the Illini will see much of Chappell, at least not as the starter.

"Kellen Lewis will play," he said. "Kellen Lewis is a dangerous player. Once again, everybody in the Big Ten has got one or at least one, and he's a guy that can turn a game around."

If Zook is right, Indiana's big-play potential goes up. And the Illini have given up at least one big play a game this season.

Last week, it was Minnesota running back DeLeon Eskridge's 46-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. It gave the Gophers a two-TD lead and put the Illini permanently on their heels.

"It's the one play that you never know what's going to happen," Zook said.

But he maintains that his defense is better now than it was in the season's opening weeks, when Missouri scored 52 points and even Eastern Illinois and Louisiana-Lafayette moved the ball a little too easily on the Illini.

Illinois will also be looking for a way to create a few more turnovers. The Illini have forced 11 turnovers in six games, tied for seventh in the Big Ten. The Illini have forced only four in the past three weeks, when they've been 1-2.

Lewis aside, Indiana's offense could be just what the Illini defense needs.

The Hoosiers last week turned the ball over twice and failed to make a first down on six of their first eight possessions. They had 286 total yards.

Lynch said Indiana will need to be able to run the ball effectively Saturday, something the Hoosiers didn't do against Iowa. They had 95 yards on the ground, and only 24 from anyone other than their quarterbacks.

"We had hung in there pretty good with the running game against all of our opponents until Saturday, and then there was a huge disparity which I think is certainly a factor in how the score ended up the way it did," Lynch said.

Indiana is trying to get to the six or seven wins it will need to secure its second-straight trip to a bowl game, something the Hoosiers haven't done since 1990 and '91.

But three of its six remaining games are against Penn State, Wisconsin and surprising Northwestern, making Indiana's odds fairly long.

Illinois is in better shape, and with games left against Iowa and Western Michigan, a win over Indiana would put Illinois in position to wrack up at least six wins.

That's well short of the dark horse shot the Illini had at a Big Ten title when the season began, but now they'd certainly take it.

"We adjusted our goals," Zook said, "but I think that usually happens if you set your goals high."

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