The No. 19 Washington Huskies return to action as they square off with the Illinois Fighting Illini in a non-conference matchup at Soldier Field.
Washington broke into the Top 25 after its impressive, 38-6 victory over Boise State in week one. The Huskies rose to No. 19 during their bye week, which is their highest ranking since October of 2003. Since going 5-7 in his first year as a head coach, Steve Sarkasian has led Washington to a 7-6 finish and bowl appearance in three straight seasons. The team went 0-12 the year before Sarkasian took over.
Sarkasian's team is playing a rejuvenated Fighting Illini unit. Illinois went just 2-10 in Tim Beckman's first year at the helm of the program, but an impressive 45-17 victory over Cincinnati last week improved it to 2-0. Beckman's team is even receiving Top 25 votes thanks to the hot start.
"I wasn't even aware we were receiving votes," said Beckman. "We're just worried about one game at a time and we know we get the opportunity to play a very good football team in Washington and that's all we're worried about right now, Tuesday, and then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and of course, Washington."
This will be the 10th meeting in history between these schools, but the first since 1972. Washington holds a 5-4 all-time series lead.
Beckman has plenty of reasons to be worried about the opposition. Washington amassed 592 yards of total offense in its victory over the Broncos. Senior quarterback Keith Price had a solid showing, completing 23-of-31 attempts for 324 yards with two touchdowns to one interception. In the process, Price became the school's all-time leader in career touchdown passes with 56.
The Huskies were without All-American tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who was suspended for violation of team rules and was still nursing a hand injury. The 6-foot-7 junior will make his 2013 debut in Chicago after finishing last season as the school's all-time leader in receptions (110), receiving yards (1,388) and touchdown catches (13) by a tight end.
"Once he gets back," Price said, "it's going to be kind of scary."
With Seferian-Jenkins absent, Jaydon Mickens led the Huskies with 109 yards on nine receptions. Kevin Smith, John Ross and Kasen Williams all finished with multiple catches in the win as well. The rushing attack was just as productive as Bishop Sankey racked up 161 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Redshirt freshman Dwayne Washington also made an impact with 52 yards and a score on 13 attempts.
Defensively, Washington held BSU to only 346 yards of total offense and denied the Broncos a touchdown on all three of their trips to the red zone. John Timu anchored the unit with 13 total stops. The pressure from the front line may need to improve, as the Huskies failed to register a sack despite BSU attempting 46 passes.
A lack of pressure on Illinois's Nathan Scheelhaase led to disaster for Cincinnati last week. Scheelhaase was not sacked once and went 26-of-37 for 312 yards and four touchdowns against the Bearcats.
The Fighting Illini has surpassed the 40-point plateau in both of their games this season, the first two with former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit as offensive coordinator.
"Bill is an outstanding offensive mind, there's no question," said Beckman, who coached against Cubit in the MAC. "And in my opinion, that's why I brought him here. He's the best that I've been coaching against or been around."
Cubit has plenty of weapons to use with Scheelhaase. Through two games, 12 different Fighting Illini players have made a reception. Sophomore tailback Josh Ferguson is leading the squad with 158 yards and two touchdowns on six catches. Martize Barr has reeled in a team-high nine catches for 108 yards and a score. Ryan Lankford and Steve Hull have both surpassed the 100-yard mark on the season as well.
Ferguson is also the team's leading rusher with 96 yards on 18 attempts. The only Illinois player to carry the ball more is Donovonn Young, who has rushed 22 times for 70 yards and a pair of scores.
Illinois was not overwhelming on the defensive side of the ball in its rout of Cincinnati and it allowed 34 points to an FCS opponent in Southern Illinois in week one. The Illini are surrendering over 430 yards of total offense per game and have just two takeaways on the season. Jonathan Brown is spearheading the defensive unit with 23 total tackles. Mason Monheim has also been a key factor and ranks second on the team in tackles (18) and first in tackles for loss (2.5).