Hot Reads: Expect the Illini to Put the Onus on Lee
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Expect the Illini to Put the Onus on Lee

September 26, 2017

Nebraska isn’t the only team hoping the move to conference play, and a more traditional slate of offenses, might help a defense that’s still under development.

You can put the Huskers’ opponent this week, Illinois, in a similar spot. Through the first two weeks, the concern in Lincoln was spread offenses that forced Nebraska to defend the whole field. After three games, the concern for the Illini is mobile quarterbacks. From the Daily Illini:

Then the team traveled to Tampa to face Heisman candidate Quinton Flowers and University of South Florida, who dominated the Illinois defense in every aspect of the game. USF’s complex attack picked Illinois apart both on the ground and through the air.

Flowers exposed a weakness of the Illini that fans caught a glimpse of in week one: the Illini struggle against mobile quarterbacks.

“You want to work to keep the quarterback contained, keep him in the pocket where you have vision on him and where you can get him,” Illini defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson said. “We just played a quarterback in Quinton Flowers who is probably one of the best in college football in terms of guys who have the ability to pull the ball down and run with it. It’s hard to defend a quarterback who is that athletic and can run like he can.”

Of course plenty of teams struggle to defend mobile quarterbacks — spread offenses, too, for that matter — but it does provide a layer of intrigue for Friday night’s game. Let's just say that quarterback containment shouldn't be much of an issue this week.

Illinois had an off week after the 47-23 loss to USF (also on a Friday) in which Flowers rushed for 106 yards and threw for another 280. Tanner Lee and Nebraska obviously don’t present the same challenge. As a mostly stationary target, the Illini staff might be licking their chops a bit.

Add in a week off to prepare and Illinois’ NFL coaches and you can expect a defensive game plan that puts the full onus on Lee. In one of the more interesting quotes from the Rutgers game, Scarlet Knights Coach Chris Ash hinted that they felt pretty good about getting the pick-six they got. “It was a great play actually,” he said. “One that we have talked about all week. We brought a lot of coverage to that play. We actually talked about it in our walk-thru this morning.”

I suspect the Illini will have at least a couple of those coverages that they feel, given what’s on film so far this season, will give a tough look to Lee. It’s going to be a really interesting test for Nebraska’s junior quarterback.

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