Louisiana Tech (2-0) at Illinois (2-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 22, 8:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Stadium (60,670) -- Champaign, Illinois. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: LA Tech 1-0, Illinois 2-0. Away Record: LA Tech 1-0, Illinois 0-1. Neutral Record: LA Tech 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Conference Record: LA Tech 0-0, Illinois 0-0. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: Louisiana Tech looks to remain unbeaten as the Bulldogs head to Champagne for a non-conference duel with the Illinois Fighting Illinois at Memorial Stadium.
LaTech improved to 2-0 by cruising to a 56-37 win over Rice last week. The Bulldogs scored the same total of points in their season opening, 56-49, victory over the Houston Cougars. LaTech's originally scheduled season opener was pushed back to Oct. 13, due to harsh weather conditions. Coach Sonny Dykes is in his third year at Louisiana Tech. He is 15-12 in his career and led the Bulldogs to the 2011 WAC Championship and Poinsettia Bowl. His offensive minded approach to game-planning helped LaTech score 50-plus points in consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 1990. The Bulldogs have won six consecutive road games dating back to last season.
Coach Tim Beckman is wasting no time making his mark in his first year in Champagne. Illinois is coming off a 44-0 dismantling of Charleston Southern. The Fighting Illini had not shut a team out since Sept. 8, 2007 or defeated an opponent by a greater margin since Nov. 13, 1965. Illinois began its season with a 24-7 triumph over Western Michigan which was followed by a 45-14 loss to Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium. Unlike the visitors, Illinois has a traditional Big Ten smash-mouth style of play. The matchup with the Bulldogs is the second of a three-game home set for the Illini.
This will be the first meeting in history between these programs.
The Bulldogs' high powered offense has put them near the top of the country in several categories. LaTech is ranked third in scoring offense (56.0 ppg) and fifth in total offense (603.5 ypg).
Colby Cameron is at the head of offensive attack. The senior QB has completed 76.7 percent of his passes for 629 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception. Cameron has thrown just three picks in his last eight outings dating back to last season.
Cameron has a great array of weapons which he uses effectively to spread defenses. Quinton Patton has team-leading totals of 155 yards and 11 receptions with two scores. D.J. Banks, Myles White, Jon Greenwalt, Hunter Lee, and David Gru are consistently targeted as well.
LaTech has the top two running backs in the WAC in Tevin King and Kenneth Dixon. King has amassed 316 yards and three scores on 35 carries. He is fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game entering Saturday. Dixon has contributed 203 yards and a team-best four rushing touchdowns on 32 carries. Louisiana Tech is the only team in the country with two running backs ranked in the top 30 in the country in rushing yards per game.
While the Bulldogs are one of the most impressive teams offensively in the nation, they are remarkably poor on the other side of the ball. LaTech is ranked last in the nation in total defense (585.0 ypg) and third to last in scoring defense (43.0 ppg). The unit will need to pull things together quickly if the team is going to continue its nine-game regular season winning streak, which is tied for the third-longest streak in the nation.
The Illini's starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase is questionable for this week's contest as he continues to recover from an ankle injury that has kept him sidelined the past two weeks.
After a quiet performance in his first appearance as a starter, Riley O'Toole exploded for 333 yards and five touchdowns through the air last week versus Charleston Southern. O'Toole also set the school record for single-game completion percentage (83.9), breaking Scheelhaase's record. After his breakout performance, O'Toole leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency (181.03).
Junior wideout Ryan Lankford also had a career game versus Charleston Southern. Lankford hauled in seven receptions for 97 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, the junior has a team-leading total of 11 catches for 192 yards and three TDs.
Josh Ferguson, Donovonn Young, and Dami Ayoola are the main components of the Illini rushing attack. Ferguson is leading the team with 139 rushing yards on 25 carries.
Illinois is much tougher defensively than LaTech's previous opponents. The Illini are ranked 25th in the nation with an allowed average of 298.0 yards per game. Opponents have managed only 17.3 points and 94.0 rushing yards per contest.
Junior LB Jonathan Brown is a big reason for the team's run-stopping abilities. Brown has been a force with team-best totals of 20 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss, and one sack in three games. His sideline-to-sideline speed helped him lead the Big Ten in tackles for loss (14.5) last season.
The production of O'Toole will be a big factor in this one. Louisiana Tech has holes on its defense, but its offense has been strong enough to carry it through its first two contests. The Bulldogs are great at limiting turnovers, which will play a factor. Illinois has to slow down the pace of the game to frustrate LaTech in order to defend its home turf successfully.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana Tech 38, Illinois 35
09/19 10:40:28 ET