CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois football team has been champing at the bit.
Defensive back Stanley Green has been waiting for a chance for the Illini to avenge last season's 47-23 loss to South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
Illinois' defense was exposed, allowing 680 yards of total offense to the Bulls on national television.
“We’ve had this game circled on the calendar since the end of the season," Green said. "This is a game that left us with a bad taste in our mouths. There’s a lot of motivation coming into this game. We need to put on a better show."
Saturday's game will be played at Soldier Field in Chicago and the Illini defense won't have to focus on stopping quarterback Quinton Flowers, who put up 386 total yards last year.
He graduated, leaving South Florida (2-0) with Blake Barnett, who started at Alabama, then went to Arizona State before talking the helm of the Bulls' up-tempo offense.
Barnett is more of a pure passer than Flowers, but he can run, too. He's rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns to go with 507 passing yards and five scores.
"This year, the quarterback is mobile enough to run, but he would describe himself as a passer who will occasionally run," Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said.
“The rest of the attack is the same thing — the same coaches in place. We know what we’re getting. Receiver-wise I think this is as good a blocking group as we will play against."
The secondary for the Illini will be sans Cameron Watkins for the first half after he was ejected from last week's game for targeting.
Tony Adams is "close" to returning from an injury that has cost him the first two games of the season, and safety Delano Ware did not play last week against Western Illinois.
It remains to be seen if defensive backs Bennett Williams and Nate Hobbs will return from their indefinite suspensions.
The young secondary will be tasked with slowing an offense that averages 284 yards. Through two games, Illinois has allowed 282.5 yards per game through the air.
“Flowers was a huge run threat and trying to get close to him or get him on the ground was an issue," defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson said. "We won’t quite see that this year, but what Barnett brings is the ability to put the ball down the field and put it down the field with accuracy."
Illini starting quarterback AJ Bush Jr. left last week's game against Western Illinois with a hamstring injury, and freshman M.J. Rivers II stepped in and helped lead the Illini to a victory.
The Illini are hopeful that Bush can return against South Florida, and offensive coordinator Rod Smith said if Bush is healthy, he's the starting quarterback.
But South Florida head coach Charlie Strong said he's ready for anything.
“They lose their quarterback, then they come back with Rivers," Strong said. "Now, just at the quarterback position you’re looking at guys with good size to them — they’re like 6-3, 6-4 and can run. They can use their legs to beat you and can throw the ball."