Date: September 8th, 2018
Game Time: 7:30 PM ET
Venue: Memorial Stadium, Champaign IL.
Television Network: BTN
Illinois (1-0) vs. Western Illinois (0-1)
This is the 2nd game of the 2018 college football season for these two programs. Both teams opened up their respective seasons with intriguing performances which consisted of many high and lows throughout their games.
Western Illinois is coming off a heartbreaking loss to Montana State 26-23. In fact Western Illinois didn’t trail in the game until the final minutes of the 4th Quarter. The mood for this team could not have been more down as head coach Jared Elliot stated “This is a very disappointing loss. This hurts and it should hurt.”
On the other hand, the mood of the Illinois Football program is quite the opposite. The Illini had to battle back from a 17-3 half-time deficit against Kent State. After a poor first half, the Illini did a complete 180 and outscored Kent State 28-7 in the second half thus leading them to a 31-24 victory.
Why Western Illinois Can Win
Despite eventually falling to Montana State, Western Illinois looked good throughout the game. Sean McShane, senior RB for the Leathernecks, started off his season strong with a tremendous stat line of a 3-yard rushing TD, followed by an 18-yard receiving TD, and 2-yard TD reception.
He scored all 3 of his team TD’s and looks to be the main threat of the Western Illinois offense. Another player to watch out for on offense is senior QB Sean Maguire who completed around 64% of his passes and threw for 164 yards and 2 TD’s. If Western Illinois has any chance of pulling off an evening upset, these are the players that will lead them there.
Why Illinois Can Win
Illinois opened up their season with an absolutely horrific first half in which it looked like the offense would never be able to score. Turn to the second half and it was a complete turn around. It was quite the impressive comeback considering Illinois never scored 31 points in a single game last season. On offense, Illini 5th year QB AJ Bush was the first B1G player to throw for at least 190 yards and run for 139 yards in a game since former OSU QB JT Barrett IV in 2014.
On defense, there were a lot of new faces, as the Illini roster consisted of a ton of missing players through injury or suspensions. Two players stood out. First was sophomore LB Jake Hansen who had a career day recording 15 tackles and 6 tackles for a loss. He was named Co-Defensive Player of the Week in the B1G. The second player that stood out for the Illinois defense was senior LB Del’shawn Phillips who recorded 12 tackles and came up with an interception in the Red Zone that consequently was the game-winning play. The linebacker position was of most concern for Illinois this season, but it is the position that shone brightest in the first game. Look for these two to have a similar impact, if the Illini are able to pull out a win.
What will happen
Both teams will be looking for a quick start after less than impressive performances. I don’t believe Western Illinois will have too much success in the first quarter against the Illini defense and will be down by two or three scores come half-time. The second half could be interesting as the Illini defense will be aiming for a game of consistency. Expect Western Illinois to score once or twice in the second half but nothing to really trouble the Illini.
In terms of stats I think the match-up to watch is RB Shane McShane versus LB Jake Hansen. Again, if McShane gets off to a quick start, this means he is having his way with the defensive line at its linebackers. On the contrary, if McShane doesn’t gain traction early, a big reason for that could very well be the play of Jake Hansen. He was in charge of patrolling the movement of the RB and was up to the challenge. This could be a fun night game in Champaign, but the Illini will ultimately win.
Note: Big time injury news came out of the Illinois football camp this week stating that 5th year senior WR Mike Dudek will be out for the season due to a knee injury. That might be the hardest news for Illini fans to take. There has also been speculation that sophomore WR Ricky Smalling was seen wearing a boot on campus. If this is true, the Illini would have lost their top 2 WRs. Expect recently converted WR sophomore Justice Williams and senior WR Sam Mays to be Breakout Candidates this weekend.
Illinois 44, Western Illinois 16