Illini see W. Michigan as a test they must pass
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
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
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