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The Illinois Offense

When SC plays Illinois on Tuesday they will be facing a mobile QB with an offense that has the ability to make things difficult for USC. This is obviously not the first time that USC has faced this type of offense as the saw this year with Oregon and in 2006 against Texas. In those losses SC faced superior athletes in QB's Dennis Dixon and Vince Young, their ability to make and/or change plays at a moments notice was the key to their success.

Juice Williams also has that ability but not on the level of Dixon or Young. There is no doubt that Williams has talent but he is only a sophomore and he has long way to go to reach the athleticism that Dixon and Young have. Williams also has some players that will be able to make plays on their own in Rashard Mendenhall and Arrelious Benn. The defense MUST neutralize these two players if SC is expected to control this game not doing so will allow Williams to dictate the game on his terms as he can either keep the ball or dish it of to Mendenhall or pass it to Benn.

The Illinois offense is not impressive to look at if you just look at the numbers. They are 36th in the nation in total offensive yards but if you look closely that is because they hardly throw the ball averaging around 150 yards per game, which ranks them at #114. But because they can throw so many different looks at you, SC needs to really be on their toes and not get caught off guard.

For all the variations in the Illinois offense -- the option plays, the traps and long passes -- maybe the biggest trickery occurs before the snap.

About 80% of the time, the Fighting Illini skip the huddle and go straight to the line of scrimmage. Sometimes they snap the ball quickly, other times they hesitate to look over the defense and signal adjustments from the sideline.

Either way, the no-huddle attack forces opponents to line up right away and limits defensive substitutions.

"When you slow down, you give the defense a chance to get set and disguise their coverages," quarterback Juice Williams said. "When you hurry up, you make them hurry up too."

What helped Williams and Illinois become so formidable this season was Mendenhall, you can't run the spread without a solid running back and Mendenhall brings that dimension to Illinois. He is a fantastic RB with his ability to gain yardage both in and out of traffic. He has the ability to also catch the ball making him a duel threat out of the backfield. That took the pressure off of Williams and enabled to him to go from a TD-to-INT ratio of 9-9 while being sacked 25 times in 2006 to TD-to-INT ratio of 13-10 with only 11 sacks in 2007, the TD-INT ratio is not great but it is a heck of a lot better than last season. The reduced number of sacks also shows he is making better decisions with the weapons he has by showing confidence in teammates like Mendenhall. Mendenhall is fearless with his ability to take the ball inside or outside and bear down on any defender, stop him and you reduce the effectiveness of Williams.

The passing game and receiving corps is serviceable but because Illinois has been so loyal to the run the passing game has suffered. Benn is the key to receiving corps. He is very athletic, as he can either beat you deep or create havoc going over the middle trying to shake loose the double coverage that will be needed to contain him. If SC goes into man coverage against Benn can shake loose and make a play where he can be very tough to tackle because of his athleticism. SC also needs to watch out for WR Jeff Cumberland as Illinois converted him from TE, at 6-5 he will create a size mismatch in the secondary and that is a bit of a concern for SC as it gives Illinois another weapon in their arsenal. SC also needs to be careful of focusing too much on the run as any of these receivers can break loose especially if they aren't careful of Illinois deceptive play action.

The offensive line is stout with all five starters listed at 6-5 or taller and they weigh in around the 300-pound range. The reduced amount of sacks and the rushing yardage show how these guys have come together. They can set the tempo only by being able to control the speed of the SC defense, which is not likely. TE Michael Hoomanawanui is not a big component of the offense but Illinois will use him as a 6th O lineman to help establish the run. Illinois loves using the option to bring the ball to the outside but the speed of the SC defense may make that more difficult than they are used to if they can't handle the speed that forces Williams into being a pocket passer and that is the last thing Illinois wants to do.