Through two games, the Illini have outscored opponents Kent State and Western Illinois by a 96-3 margin. Kent State reached the red zone once, but their field goal was blocked. Western Illinois never passed Illinois’ 33-yard line.
“We’ve got in our opinion, from looking at the film, the best team we’ve played this season coming in,” said Coach Larry Fedora at his weekly press conference on Monday. “They’re going to come in here sky high and feeling good about themselves.”
Assistant offensive coach Seth Littrell said the Illinois defense uses a difficult and unorthodox scheme. The roster lists four linebacker groups — star, leo, weak side linebacker and middle linebacker. But overall, he thinks it’s a system that the Illini players are comfortable playing.
“At the end of the day, they’re going to have four-deep or three-deep or some type of man or zone,” Littrell said. “Every week you’re going to see some form of it, it’s just a matter of how they’re getting to us.”
Senior guard Landon Turner said the Illini defensive front will pose a challenge to the Tar Heels because of their experience. Each Illinois starting linebacker and defensive lineman is either a senior or junior.
But UNC has rushed for at least 200 yards in its first two match-ups and Turner is impressed with the UNC offensive line.
“That’s definitely our greatest attribute — that we’re hard-working, blue-collar guys,” Turner said. “We really want to establish the running game for this entire season, and that’s something where we need to come out with a purpose and an attitude to accomplish each week.”
Through the air, the Illini have held their opposition under 115 passing yards per game and tallied five interceptions. Senior wide receiver Quinshad Davis said the Illini cornerbacks often use press coverage.
To him, the Illinois secondary plays as if they have nothing to lose.
“They’re going out there, having fun and playing with confidence,” Davis said. “You can see that on tape. I’m ready to play and see.”
For UNC, the expectation is to score touchdowns. But to reach the end zone on Saturday versus Illinois, Turner believes consistency must be prioritized.
“I think we’re kind of going through valleys, ups and downs, right now,” Turner said. “We have all of the talent we need. We just need to be mature enough to lock in.”