2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - Arkansas State at Illinois
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Sept. 3 at Illinois 33 … Arkansas State 15
CFN Analysis: The Illini took control early and Nathan Scheelhaase wouldn't let the game go. Coming off his great bowl performance against Baylor nine months ago, he picked up where he left off completing 16-of-23 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns in a mistake-free performance that didn't allow ASU to get back in the game. Who's going to be the next great Illinois running back? It's going to be a committee, with Jason Ford running 22 times but being held to 86 yards with two scores. Including Scheelhaase, seven different players carried the ball, and that's not going to change over the next several weeks with South Dakota State up next before the Arizona State showdown.
Ryan Aplin couldn't seem to find a groove. Illinois did such a great job of converting on third downs and moving the chains that ASU couldn't fight its way back into the game. Aplin threw for 290 yards, but he didn't get much help from the running game and the defense couldn't get off the field. Defensively, strong safety Kelcie McCray was in on everything with eight tackles and two broken up passes, but he had to make too many plays; the front seven needed to do more. Fortunately, Memphis is up next to get the offense flying before dealing with Virginia Tech.
(AP) CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Illinois started slow but used 100-yard receiving days from A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines to open the season with a 33-15 win over Arkansas State on Saturday.
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for a career-best 267 yards. His 16 completions went to Jenkins, who had 11 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown, and Millines, who caught five balls for 119 yards and a score.
Jason Ford rushed for 86 yards and two TDs for Illinois.
The Red Wolves led 8-7 with less than three minutes left in the first half on a safety and a pair of field goals.
But Illinois answered with Millines' touchdown and a field goal before halftime. Jenkins scored his TD early in the third quarter.
Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin was 20 of 32 for 290 yards.
Arkansas State (0-0) at Illinois (0-0)
Sept. 3, 3:30, BTN
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Here's The Deal …
Arkansas State has been known for being pesky. While it went 4-8 last year, and was lousy enough to force a coaching change, the offense was in place to finish second in the Sun Belt and 40th in the nation. With offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze taking over as the head coach, the production is expected to continue, and there's a chance that Illinois will have to fight for a full sixty minutes.
Last year, ASU took Indiana to the wall in a 36-34 loss, two years ago it was Iowa who had to fight its way to a 34-21 win, Texas in 2007 had to keep pushing in its opener against the Red Wolves winning 21-13. This Illinois team has enough concerns and enough problems to make this a potential dogfight.
The Illini have to deal with a strong-looking Arizona state in a few weeks, and Western Michigan and Northwestern are hardly layups, but the first five games of the year are at home before going on the road to face Indiana. It's not an unreasonable goal to be 6-0 before hosting Ohio State, but this isn't a team that can take much for granted. It has some rebuilding to do, and under head coach Ron Zook it's been just flaky enough to gag away apparent layups from time to time, but the pieces are there to have another strong season.
While the 6-6 regular season record might not have been impressive, close losses to Michigan, Minnesota, and Fresno State could've easily have gone the other way, and the blowout bowl win over Baylor was terrific. After kicking off the last four seasons against Missouri, and losing all four games, the hope will be for a bit of a break this year. Arkansas State, though, isn't going to be a pushover.
Why Arkansas State Might Win: The ASU pass rush could give the Illini problems. Illinois wasn't exactly a rock against the better pass rushing teams last year, and it could have problems early on again. As time goes on, the Illini line will be a strength with enough talent returning to be a rock for the running game, but when it comes to keeping quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase upright, there could be problems against a defensive front seven that manufactures pressure from every spot. While there isn't one pass rusher for Illini to worry about, the Red Wolves should be able to make some big things happen. While the ASU line should be great at coming up with a few key plays …
Why Illinois Might Win: … good luck against the Illinois running game. Mikel Leshoure might be off in the NFL – and getting paid while healing after suffering a torn Achilles – but the Illini won't have any problems running the ball. Scheelhaase is one of the Big Ten's most mobile quarterbacks and is always a threat to tear off 100 yards, while a bevy of backs will make up for the loss of the 130.5 yards per game cranked out by Leshoure. ASU has good speed and athleticism on the defensive front, but it was abysmal against the run, finishing 110th in the nation allowing 207 yards per game, and it doesn't appear to have improved. It might take a little bit to establish the ground game, but Illinois should be able to take control as the game goes on.
What To Watch Out For: Arkansas State QB Ryan Aplin. While Scheelhaase has all the tools and all the talent to be one of the nation's breakout stars, Aplin could put up better all-around stats.
The First Team All-Sun Belt performer should be in the mix for the Sun Belt Player of the Year honor coming off a 2,939-yard, 21 touchdown season. Not only was he accurate, completing 61% of his throws, but he was also the team's second leading rusher with 477 yards and 11 scores. At 6-1 and 205 pounds he's not big and he doesn't have a huge arm, but he spread the ball around well, is great on the move.
He'll throw interceptions, and he wasn't able to come up with enough close wins, but he's a statistical machine who knows what he's doing.
He'll keep the pressure on the Illini defense all
What Will Happen: Illinois will be pushed, and then the
running game will take over and then the points will
come. Aplin will give the Illini fits, and he'll do
enough to keep pace, but Illinois will finish with
over 300 yards rushing and will control the clock
for over 35 minutes, keeping Aplin off the field.
Freeze will show that he's going to be a good head
coach with a little more time, with his offense
picking up where it left off last year, but it won't
CFN Prediction: Illinois 34 ... Arkansas State 23
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Illinois -20.5 O/U: 58..5
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