In doing a word association exercise with the unsuspecting patrons of Green Street, one thing became apparent: Shonn Greene is the Big Ten's version of the Invisible Man. One-word answers ranged from "Random" to "Who?" to my personal favorite, "Never heard of him." So much for one-word answers.
It seems Greene has become a clich -- the proverbial "best player you've never heard of." While it's apparent Greene isn't striking fear in the hearts of his opponents' fans, it's fair to say he's demanding the attention of his opponents themselves.
Greene is currently third in the nation in rushing yards per game behind Connecticut's Donald Brown and fellow Big Ten tailback Javon Ringer of Michigan State, averaging 144 yards on the ground.
Students at Iowa are even planning a "Greene Out" for the Hawkeyes' Nov. 8 game against Penn State, their version of Penn State's famed "White-Out," to garner national attention and support for Greene.
Greene and Iowa (2-2 Big Ten, 5-3 overall) visit Champaign this weekend to take on the Illini (2-3 Big Ten, 4-4 overall) in a matchup that pits one of the nation's best offenses against one of the nation's best defenses.
While the Illini defense will have its hands full with Greene, the Iowa defense will attempt to stop Juice Williams and the powerful Illinois offense. Even after the lackluster showing last week at Wisconsin, the Illini still rank eleventh nationally in total offense, thanks in large part to the Williams-to-Arrelious Benn connection.
Countering that explosive offense will be an Iowa defense that has already totaled 14 interceptions on the season -- good for third nationally. Linebacker Pat Angerer leads the team with four, including two in the team's 38-16 victory against Wisconsin. The team is twentieth in total defense, holding opponents to just under 300 yards per game. It's a classic strength versus strength situation, and as they say, something's got to give.
On the other side of the ball is where both teams have struggled.
While Greene and his 6.5 yards per carry have provided yardage on the ground, Iowa is ranked eighty-sixth in passing offense. The statistic is misleading, as QB Ricky Stanzi is completing passes at a 64 percent clip, but with Greene the team has had little reason to divert from the run. Still, it stands to reason the Illini will concentrate on stopping Greene first and force the Hawkeyes to make up yardage aerially.
And concentrate the Illini must. The team is giving up 152 rushing yards a game through eight games and allowed 163 in their loss to Wisconsin a week ago. Just as it seems the first team to blink when the Illini have the ball will falter, the team that does the best job of turning a perceived weakness into a strength will have an advantage in this scenario.
Key Matchup: Andy Brodell vs. Vontae Davis
Brodell leads the Hawkeyes with 373 yards receiving on the year, not even half of Benn's total for the Illini so far -- an example of the difference in the two teams' styles.
With the defense well-aware of Greene's abilities, Davis might find himself on an island against Brodell for a good part of the game.
If Davis, one of the nation's best corners, can lock down Brodell, that'll be one less thing the Illini safeties will have to worry about.
If Brodell gives Davis fits, it's one less guy for Greene to beat in the box.
With the Illini being so unpredictable lately -- winning big one week just to disappoint the next -- it seemed only fitting to gather predictions from those who knew the least about Illini football for this week's game. How do you combat unpredictability? That's right -- more unpredictability. So, foregoing a real prediction this week, I instead decided to ask strangers on the Illinois campus for their thoughts. They obliged.
Illinois 24, Iowa 17 -- Christy works at an area clothing retailer she wished to remain anonymous, but she took a short break to predict a close Illini win.
Illinois 30, Iowa 15 -- Jennifer was outside Espresso Royale (with no espresso, strangely) and foresaw the Illini doubling up the Hawkeyes on Saturday.
Illinois 27, Iowa 13 -- Jarod claimed to know little-to-nothing about football -- a running theme -- but has the Illini winning by two touchdowns. He also wishes to make it clear that these views in no way represent those of the entire Jimmy John's corporation.
Illinois 27, Iowa 14 -- Terese actually started off predicting the Illini to put up 47, but her conservative side got the best of her and she cut that number to 27. Still, she made it clear that the Illini would dominate, stating, "We're totally going to win. We're going to crush them."
Illinois 28, Iowa 14 -- The final participant, Sukwon, also failed miserably at the Shonn Greene word association game, responding, "What do you mean?" Football knowledge aside, he still predicted a two-touchdown win for the home team.
There you have it. The scores differed but the feeling remained the same: an Illini win in front of the home crowd at Memorial Stadium.
We'll see if their predictions can stand up better than the previous week's.