UNC Scouting Report: Illinois Fighting Illini


In the preseason Big Ten media poll, the Illinois  was predicted to finish sixth out of seventh in the West division. People aren’t too high on the Fighting Illini, but they have defeated their first two opponents – Kent State and Western Illinois – by a combined score of 96-3. And Larry Fedora mentioned in his Monday press conference that Illinois looks better on film than South Carolina. So, the Illini could prove to be a challenge for the Tar Heels if turnovers and penalties become issues.

Let’s take a look at some of their best players…

Main TargetGeronimo Allison

No player on the Illini offense tallies eye-popping statistics. But through two games, wideout Geronimo Allison seems to be the favorite target of quarterback Wes Lunt.  He played junior college football at Iowa Western, so 2014 was Allison’s first year with the team. Last season, he finished with 41 receptions for 598 yards.

More from UNC Football

Against Kent State and Western Illinois, Allison had a combined 10 receptions for 181 yards – leading the team in both categories.  One thing to take into account is that both games were out of reach fairly early, and usually that means a drop in numbers for the starters.  For example, the Illini were up 28-0 on Kent State in the first quarter. So, although Allison is the best receiver on paper statistically, expect the ball to be thrown evenly.

By Committee – Josh Ferguson, Ke’Shawn Vaughn

Even more than the receiving corps, no running back rises to the top statistically. Through the first two games, Josh Ferguson leads the way with 115 yards and two touchdowns, but Ke’Shawn Vaughn isn’t too far behind with 96 yards and one touchdown. But judging from preseason accolades and previous experience, expect Ferguson to get more touches against UNC. Ferguson led the team with 146 rushing attempts, 735 rushing yards, eight touchdowns and was second with 50 receptions.  He was also placed on the 2015 Doak Walker Award Preseason List.

But don’t brush off Vaughn. He is only a freshman, but he is a 4-star running back and was ranked as the No.20 running back in the 2015 class by 247Sports. Although Ferguson is the primary running back, Vaughn will get his opportunities. UNC coaches and players will be putting a target on both in film study.

Defensive Work-Horses – Taylor Barton, TJ Neal

Regardless of the teams, holding two opponents to a combined three points is impressive. So naturally, there are players on the defensive side who make this happen. Defensive back Taylor Barton was a Big Ten Honorable mention as a sophomore. Two games into his junior year and he’s already snatched three interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss. There were no interceptions thrown against NC A&T, but don’t be surprised if Barton sneaks in front of a UNC receiver and tricks Marquise Williams.

TJ Neal is arguably the best Illini linebacker. He is tied for the team lead with 12 tackles and he is third in tackles for loss with two. As a sophomore, he garnered 98 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, so he’s used to being in the middle of the action and pressuring the line of scrimmage. UNC running backs and receivers will have to dodge him in the open field.