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Monday, Jul 16, 2018
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Know the foe: Illinois

A look at Illinois, which plays No. 22 USF on Friday at Raymond James Stadium

Nickame: Fighting Illini
'16 record: 3-9
'17 record: 2-0 (def. Ball State 24-21, def. Western Kentucky 20-7)
Coach: Lovie Smith (second season, 5-9)

The breakdown: Smith, fired as Bucs coach 20 months ago, already has used 17 true freshmen this season. He started a school-record seven (three on defense) against Western Kentucky, and the Illini held the Hilltoppers -- quarterbacked by former USF starter Mike White -- to fewer than 10 points for the first time in five years. WKU managed 6 rushing yards in that game, its lowest output since at least 2000. Among the most impressive rookies so far has been Largo High alumnus Bobby Roundtree, a 6-foot-5 defensive end who had two sacks and a forced fumble against WKU, and already has three sacks this season. Offensively, Smith employed an entirely different starting line from the one he used against Ball State, and the Illini ran for 193 yards (after rushing for 71 against Ball State). As one might expect with Smith's background, the offense appears pro-style, and opened with two tight ends against WKU. Freshman Mike Esptein, who played at Fort Lauderdale dynasty St. Thomas Aquinas, had 21 carries for 111 yards against the Hilltoppers.

Odds and ends: Beloved former Bucs LB Hardy Nickerson is Smith's defensive coordinator, while former Bucs CB Donnie Abraham is the defensive backs coach. Abraham will be facing his son, Bulls senior S Devin Abraham, on Friday. ... Roundtree is among three former bay area prep standouts on the Illini roster. The others are LB Tre Watson (Tampa Catholic) and LB Jake Hansen (East Lake). ... Senior WR Malik Turner has caught a pass in 22 consecutive games. ... Backup QB Jeff George Jr. is the son of the former Illini/NFL journeyman starter.

Audible: "I'm not one of those touchy-feely guys like that. I mean, I spent a lot of time down there. I'm a homeowner still down there, I know the area. ... I remember when (the Bulls) first started their program, so you know, we have some of that, but our football team needs to get a road win, not a whole lot more than that." -- Smith, responding to a question about returning to Tampa

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