Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt looks legit.
Washington’s secondary is vulnerable.
That could spell trouble for the Huskies on Saturday afternoon.
It’s not crazy to think Lunt could throw the ball 60 times (or more) for 500 yards (or more) against a UW defense that made an FCS offense look like the New England Patriots last week. I could certainly imagine a scenario where Lunt does all that — especially with UW preparing to play without suspended star cornerback Marcus Peters — and Illinois upsets everyone’s assumption that the Huskies would roll to a 4-0 start.
The hunch here, however, is that UW’s defense will be better this week. It has to be. Lunt’s going to throw and throw and throw some more — 84 percent of the Illini yards comes through the air — in Bill Cubit’s unorthodox offense. UW’s young defensive backs will be tested again and again, and they’ll give up more big plays, sure. They’ll have to be more physical in man coverage, even if they are in more zone this week, and win a few of those 50-50 balls — something they didn’t do much of against Eastern Washington.
Illinois has allowed just two sacks in two games, so the line has protected Lunt well so far. But the Illini will be without their starting right tackle, and it’s hard to fathom that Youngstown State and Western Kentucky presented a pass rush anything close to what the Huskies will bring Saturday at Husky Stadium. As Hau’oli Kikaha said this week, UW’s veteran front seven will have to do more to help out the young secondary.
And let’s be honest: Lunt is no Vernon Adams Jr. Specially, it does not appear that Lunt has Adams’ ability to move in and out of the pocket and get those key first downs with his legs. That, as much as Adam’s arm, is what killed UW last week. Lunt has a net of minus-18 yards rushing in two games.
Remember, too, that while UW had to sweat out its 2-0 start against Hawaii and Eastern Washington, Illinois needed fourth-quarter comebacks at home to beat both Youngstown State and Western Kentucky.
Illinois is 122nd in the nation in rushing, averaging just 71 yards in two games and 2.49 yards per carry. It’s hard to win anywhere — even against a struggling Pac-12 defense — with a one-dimensional offense (cough, cough, Cougs).
On the flip side, the Huskies should again be able to run the ball with some success, if not a lot of success. Defenses have to respect Cyler Miles’ running ability, which should open things up more for the running backs and other playmakers (John Ross III, anyone?).
Another shootout? Perhaps.
I think it’s just as likely that UW knocks Lunt down enough and intercepts him once or twice to make his 350 passing yards mostly irrelevant, and the Huskies pull away in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Washington 42, Illinois 30.
Who you got?