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Illini see W. Michigan as a test they must pass

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP)

The players for No. 24 Illinois are saying all the right things heading into Saturday's game against Western Michigan.

Those guys have a good football team. That quarterback can hurt you. They might be the best team in the MAC.

But the Illini (3-0) just might mean it when it comes to the Broncos. Western Michigan (2-1, 1-0 MAC) beat Illinois the last time the teams faced each other in 2008

''It was a game that was really embarrassing for some of our guys,'' said defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who was hired after the 2009 season but has heard plenty about the Broncos. ''They're good enough to embarrass you.''

Embarrassing might not quite explain how bad it was.

The Illini, struggling to live up to the expectations of their 2007 Rose Bowl season, had opened the season in the Top 25 but were 5-4 when they went to Ford Field in early November. Illinois lost 23-17 in front of just 12,800 fans in the cavernous NFL stadium, setting off a string of losses that saw them finish 5-7.

Broncos coach Bill Cubit said that Illini team, like this one, was big, fast and strong.

''They'll be one of the best looking football teams we'll play,'' Cubit said. ''But I thought that was the same way when we played them before. They looked the part.''

Illinois would appear to be the biggest challenge on the Broncos' schedule, a ranked Big Ten team riding an unbeaten streak that, dating to last season, is up to four games. Beating rival Central Michigan last week 44-14 in the MAC opener was nice, but this is something else.

''I want to see how good we are,'' Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder said.

The Illini were riding high after a 17-14 win last Saturday night over then-No. 22 Arizona State and next week is the Big Ten opener on homecoming against Northwestern. Western Michigan would appear to be a trap game if ever there was one.

Illini coach Ron Zook said his veteran players started leading their teammates past that hurdle after the win over the Sun Devils. Senior offensive lineman Jack Cornell reminded his teammates in the locker room how it felt to leave Ford Field a loser.

''His thing was, `Enjoy the win, but be smart. I was there (in 2008), and it wasn't so much fun,''' Zook said. ''I thought that was impressive.''

If there's anything the Illini can carry over from the win over ASU, it might be Koenning's defensive scheme and its result. The Illini relentlessly pressured quarterback Brock Osweiler, sacking him six times and forcing three turnovers.

The Broncos' offense averages 273 yards a game, most of it through the air. Carder is usually looking for wide receiver Jordan White, who has 29 catches for 363 yards and two touchdowns.

''He really is a special player,'' Carder said.

Illinois pass rush specialist Michael Buchanan wasn't sure early in the week just how the Illini would approach the Broncos offense, but said he wouldn't mind seeing a heavy dose of the wide-open attacking scheme Koenning used to hammer the Sun Devils.

''We do see some similarities,'' Buchanan said. ''Whatever coach Vic calls, whatever type of game plan he brings out, we're always confident in it.''

Zook said the Broncos may have another motivator when they come to Champaign. Many of the players were courted by Big Ten school before ultimately being passed over. Zook said he looked at some of them himself.

But he doesn't expect his own players to be complacent. There has just been too much talk this week about what went wrong in 2008 and what the Broncos can do to allow a letdown.

''That's a tough, well-coached, get-after-your-tail football team,'' he said of Western Michigan. ''I don't see it happening.''

Tagged: Illinois, Michigan, Western Michigan, Alex Carder

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