It was another stressful afternoon in Champaign today, but Illinois pulled off a win against Western Michigan, 23-20. Just like last week against Arizona State, the Broncos took the Illini to the last couple minutes of the game, leaving fans holding their breaths until the clock ran out.
The Illini are now 4-0 for the season, the first time this has happened since 1951. The Illini didn’t look bad per say, but WMU was much more in control. Our defense was strong again, but it took a little while for the offense to take off. Riley O’Toole got into the game a couple times to give Nathan Scheelhaase a break, and inject a little fire into the guys.
It was pretty obvious that WMU came in this game to win, as they should. Apparently no one told them to be slightly afraid of the Illini, and so they weren’t. The Bronco’s quarterback Alex Carder had some great short passes, but seemed to fail when he had to go long. Overall, Carder finished 30 of 48 with 306 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while Scheelhaase went 14 of 20 with 130 passing yards. Scheelhaase did hustle as always, with 40 rushing yards compared to Carder’s -1.
The surprise treat of the night was Freshman RB Donovonn Young, who rushed for 102 yards with a touchdown. RB Jason Ford never really got going, with just 21 yards, and Scheelhaase’s go-to WR A.J. Jenkins didn’t contribute too much either. This doesn’t bother me, as others stepped up to get the job done.
WMU missed a field goal in the first quarter, allowing the Illini to get on the scoreboard first with a TD a little over halfway into the quarter. The Bronocs kicker John Potter made his second attempt, putting the game at 7-3 to end the quarter. Illini kicker Derek Dimke – who by the way is still perfect in extra points since putting on his orange and blue uniform – made a 39-yard field goal to give the Illini some more wiggle room with a 10-3 lead in the second. Potter got another field goal, and then WMU scored to grab the lead at the half, 13-10. A Young TD and Dimke field goal put the Illini up 20-13 in the third, but then WMU had to tie up the game at the beginning of the fourth. I
Illinois had a chance to get another field goal with just a couple of minutes left in the game, but Scheelhaase couldn’t convert a fourth down, and WMU got the ball back with just about a minute to go. At this point it was a waiting and praying game, and the Broncos failed to get anything done. Exhale- Illini win.
Not exactly how you’d want the game to go, but perhaps this was a learning experience? Get the guys ready for when they have to face tougher opponents in conference play?
Couple of notes that I picked up, Paul Hazel is just as bad as ASU’s Vontaze Burfict, as he tried to break Scheelhaase’s neck with a yanking of the facemask. Then Jeff Allen got kicked out of the game at the end of the half, but no one is really sure why and the BTN had nothing to say about the matter. Also a neat tidbit, Illinois’ Ryan Lankford might be the only college player who served as both the punter and the punt returner in the same game.
Other than that, nothing too exciting report, aside from the fact that this was the second game in a row that the Illini won by just 3 points and almost blew it in the end.
It will be interesting to see if they change at all in the rankings, they certainly won’t go up because again they weren’t able to get a blowout win and apparently that’s all that matters. Nevertheless, the guys are 4-0, which means they are just two games away from being bowl eligible, and we haven’t even faced Indiana yet.
Up next the Illini are at home AGAIN, and will face Northwestern in the Homecoming game.