CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Illinois receiver Darius Millines watched No. 22 Arizona State's win over Missouri last week and came to a conclusion about the big-hitting Sun Devils.
"They can't really tackle that well," Millines said as the Illini (2-0) prepared for Saturday night's game against Arizona State. "So we're going to try and take that and use that to our advantage and make big plays."
Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson came away feeling the same way, and he hopes his team sorts out its defensive issues against Illinois (2-0).
The 37-30 overtime win over Missouri moved Arizona State (2-0) into the Top 25. The game was played on national TV and in front of a big crowd. Erickson says his team may have played out of control.
"We tackled very poorly in that football game the other night, there's no question about it," he said. "Maybe we were out of control, I don't know. We weren't in control enough to make the tackles and get enough people there."
Arizona State spent the week trying to settle down a bit. Sun Devil defenders talked about just how many tackles they missed and how many yards the Tigers were given as a result.
The Illini have taken just the opposite approach.
Players this week have taken to Twitter to stir up fans, many of whom have stayed away in wins over less enticing opposition.
"Memorial Stadium need to be ROCKING on Saturday! Loud as it's ever been!" running back Jason Ford pleaded Thursday night.
And the Illini think the Sun Devils and their defense — particularly highlight-machine linebacker Vontaze Burfict — are likely to keep riding the same emotional rails they did last week.
"I'm not so sure their emotion doesn't come from their defense, and particularly (Burfict). They just play with a lot of emotion," coach Ron Zook said.
The 6-3, 252-pound Burfict can be found close to the ball on nearly every play. He starts deep on most plays, nowhere near the line — something Illinois' coaches say makes him a challenge to block.
Then the linebacker moves in quick. In one play against Oregon last year, he covered about 15 yards from his spot in the middle to cut down a receiver catching a screen in the flat, arriving just ahead of a defensive back coming from half that distance.
Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said the Illini plan to throw anyone and anything at Burfict to contain him, including 250-pound sophomore fullback Jay Prosch.
He's started since the first game of his freshman season, but Prosch so far doesn't have a carry. But as Illinois piled up 364 rushing yards on South Dakota State last week it was Prosch clearing the paths.
"Jay's big every week," Zook said when asked about how to handle Burfict, "but I think there's a chance those two might run into each other a couple of times."
Of course, Burfict isn't even the Sun Devils top tackler.
Another linebacker, Colin Parker, leads the team with 16, double Burfict's total (though Burfict does have a team-high four sacks).
Arizona State entered the season with big ideas about how good it could be, and the Missouri game — hosting a ranked opponent on a Friday night before it begins Pac-12 play — was a chance to start proving that the Sun Devils really might be something special. It was a chance they took advantage of, quarterback Brock Osweiler said.
"I think we understood the opportunity we had this year as a football team and guys didn't want that to slip away," he said.
This week, Arizona State has switched roles. If there's a statement to be made Saturday, it's Illinois' to make. Wins over Arkansas State and South Dakota State aren't likely to impress Top 25 voters, and they haven't much impressed Illinois' fans, either.
"We've all been talking about it, about how we've got a nice night game under the lights against a nice opponent," said Millines.
He said his roommate, starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne, spelled it out early in the week.
"He called me and was like, 'This is our test right here,'" Millines said. "We're going to see what this team is."