Illinois Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
Illinois Illini
Posted Aug 6, 2006

Illinois Fighting Illini Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – Bracing for Brasic – The major question facing new head coach Ron Zook and his coaching staff (well, outside of whether the Zooker could keep his heart pressure under control coaching a team that would win only two games) entering last year was who would play quarterback.  Although there were plenty of candidates (and there are always a few more than usual with a new coaching staff in place), Tim Brasic won the job and surprised a few people with his effort behind center.  In the Big Ten, he’s definitely going to be overshadowed at the QB position, but his 2005 season was commendable for a first year starter – just short of 2,000 yards passing, 11 TDs and an additional 420 yards rushing on the ground.  Zook couldn’t get his QB at Florida to really be a dual threat – throwing and running – but Brasic proved that he could be solid in both aspects.  For as much that went wrong last season for the Illini, Brasic was a relative bright spot for the Illini, who lost the last nine games of the year.  The key for Brasic, leading this offense in 2006, is to get them into the end zone.  Duh.  They only scored 20 touchdowns last season, 14 of those accounted for by the aforementioned Illinois signal caller.  He’ll have to cut down on his 11 interceptions from last year, but as the game continues to slow down for Brasic, and more importantly, as he continues to make plays with his feet to keep defenses truly honest, the INT number should fall.  He won’t be an All-Big Ten player, with the talented crop of Big Ten quarterbacks coming to a stadium near you this fall, but similar to the way that Brett Basanez carried Northwestern last year, Brasic can look to do the same for the Illini in 2006.

2nd and Seven – More skating in the Fall? – Most people love the fall.  Leaves are changing color.  The weather becomes crisp and sometimes biting.  There are so many fun things to do, but typically skating isn’t one of them.  You wait until the winter for that, right?  Well, if you’re an Illinois defensive lineman, then you better make sure that you hold up your end of the skating bargain.  No skating until the winter.  Last year’s defensive linemen got knocked around and pushed around, as if they were on skates throughout the 2005 season.  They got mauled to the tune of 235 yards per game on the ground.  235!  That’s astonishing.  But, even beyond the yardage number, this group just flat got pushed around in a major way, but, with the exception of honorable mention All-Big Ten DT Ryan Matha, the defensive line has a significant number of players returning.  But, do they have their skates on or are they ready to start making like Simeon Rice and dominate a game up front?  Perhaps, somewhere in between, but getting off the skates for the fall is paramount to improving the run defense in 2006.

3rd and Three – Double dip – Although Brasic is probably the glue who’ll keep the offense on track this year, running backs Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey are more than likely the best and most explosive players on the field.  The Illini backs, who share carries and the backfield, are “triple threats”, who can turn the corner in the run game, catch the ball out of the backfield or break your back in the return game.  Thomas was the team’s leading rusher, its third leading receiver and its leading kick returner.  Halsey is no slouch either, as he was the second leading rusher, the leading receiver and leading punt returner.  A receiving threat must emerge to keep these guys fresh throughout the season, and Brasic has to have a strong season, but when it’s the fourth quarter, Thomas or Halsey will have the ball in their hands.  Just not at the same time.

4th and One – No Fly Zone – Outside of Halsey and Thomas, the best unit at Illinois this season should be the secondary, a foursome that returns in tact after last year.  Well, make that five.  Five guys started in the secondary at one point or another last year and all five return.  Safeties Justin Harrison and Kevin Mitchell are a physical, hard hitting pair and the corner spots, manned by Alan Ball, Sharriff Abdullah and Charles Bailey, are going to be filled by guys with plenty of experience.  But, experience will only take this group so far.  A group of hungry and talented 2006 recruits is ready to come in and push for playing time, which should make this defensive back unit that much better.

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