Hey everybody, it’s Husky time! Tomorrow, the Dawgs take on the Illinois Fighting Illini. I’m realizing as I type this that the Fighting Illini is a strange nickname. It just sounds strange, and it’s a weird one to type. Andrew touched on the fuzzy origins of the name earlier this week. Think about this, though: take out the “Fighting” and it’s just the Illinois Illini. I don’t know if that’s better or worse. I don’t know where I’m going with this, either.
Andrew pointed out a moderately fascinating observation to me today. In his words:
“I wonder if the Huskies have ever opened up the season against two schools that have the school colors of blue and orange. I mean, what are the chances? I’m not a math major. My wife is. I asked her what the odds were and she ignored me. But wait! The last time the Huskies played Boise State was 2007. Guess who they played the game before that? Syracuse. Syracuse’s colors are blue and orange. Wow. Groundbreaking stuff. In 2007 and 2013 the Huskies played consecutive games against teams with blue and orange. In between those years the Huskies played only two teams with those colors: Syracuse in 2010 and Boise State last year.”
Excellent research! I’d also note the Huskies won all of those games except for last year against Boise State. Seems like a good omen.
One more random note, if anyone is still reading this. The game is in Chicago at Soldier Field, instead of on-campus in Champaign. It’s the same idea as the Cougars playing in Seattle. They get to reach a few more alumni and hopefully make a dent in a major recruiting hotbed. For the Huskies, it’s a nice little benefit, in that it should be more of a neutral field. They’re only expecting 45,000 at the most. Anyway, I was thinking about Chicago on the way home today, and I wondered if any city has both a prominent band and song named after it. Chicago, the band, is on about the third tier of rock band stardom and is my father-in-law’s favorite. “Chicago“, the song by Sufjan Stevens, is one of the best songs of the 2000’s and the most notable track from one of the biggest influences on both the current indie rock and folk movements. There are lots of songs named after cities, but not that many bands. Boston comes to mind, but I can’t think of any major songs named Boston. Any thoughts? Add them in the comments.
Alright, that’s enough of this dumb intro. On to the predictions!
UW rolls into Chicago coming off a bye week that probably wasn’t needed, but no doubt they are still on an emotional high after the thumping of Boise State a week earlier in the home opener. The Boise win validated, at least for a couple weeks, Sark’s new up-tempo fastbreak offense. The Dawgs wore out Boise, a team, coincidentally, that also runs an up-tempo offense. To be able to wear out a very athletic and well coached defense like the Broncos is a serious accomplishment. In fact, the Huskies’ win over Boise was arguably Sark’s best overall win as UW’s coach. The Huskies played a complete game exhibiting speed and quickness, without committing costly penalties. Boise was a very good opponent who came ready to play and UW stepped up to the challenge and won in all three phases of the game. I think this type of win will help UW focus on Illinois since the Illini like to do the Star Wars thing on offense as well, spread the field out, huge gaps between linemen. None of this will surprise UWs defense, which is as quick a defense as UW has had in two decades. I like the match up for the Huskies. Sankey will pound the rock, and I expect to see a big performance from Kasen this week, since no doubt ASJ’s return and the emergence of Ross and Mickens will have the Illinois defensive staff on high alert. It’s a road game, and UW under Sark hasn’t fared well on the road, so it will be close, but I expect UW to prevail. They are the better, deeper team with a hunger to win on the road.
UW 32 – Illinois 24
There are reasons to be concerned about this game. It’s the Huskies first time on the road, and Illinois has thrown for a ton of yards in a chaotic offense so far. Illinois also has a defense sure to be overmatched, and the Dawgs should be able to score often and easily if they execute like last week. I’m most looking forward to seeing how Sark uses ASJ in his return. Also intriguing is what form the next evolution of the offense will take. Illinois will surely be looking to blow-up the bubble screens and flare passes. Watch to see if they’re successful, and what UW does in response. Ideally, the Huskies will have an easy enough time scoring that they’ll be able to save some wrinkles for future, tougher opponents, but if not, the offense could see some interesting permutations. The secondary will get a tougher test this week, but if they can hold up and the line can get a bit more pressure, this could be a romp. This Husky team feels different to me. They seem like they’ve figured it out. We’ll see if I’m right. A road blow-out would be a solid next step in their maturation.
UW 45 – Illinois 20
This is kind of a strange game to predict. As the Huskies and the Illini step out on the field tomorrow, the Dawgs appear to be the superior team. They have way more speed and better playmakers. They have equal (and probably much better) lines on both sides of the ball. But, Illinois played a pretty good game last week and is gaining confidence. As we’ve seen in the past few years, a young team with confidence can be very dangerous even when facing a superior opponent. Not to mention, the Huskies are 2,000 miles away from home. They haven’t exactly been a great team away from home. So, there are things that concern me.
When looking for a game to compare this to, I think Syracuse a few years ago is a good one. They weren’t a complete pushover but they have a few really nice players and may be able to stick with the Dawgs, at least for a little bit. Illinois has a good quarterback. Also, off topic, but the Illini coach seems like an easy guy to root for based on his interview with Softy a few days ago. As Husky fans have watched our program grow, we’ve seen that a team with a couple of great players isn’t enough against the elite teams. Here’s guessing that is true tomorrow and the Dawgs run away with the game in the second half. If they do, I’m guessing that it’s about time to start calling the Huskies elite.
UW 42 – Illinois 17