Illini hammered by Western Michigan, 34-10
By Jeff Mayfield

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[September 19, 2016]  I wouldn’t say the cupboards are bare for U of I Coach Lovie Smith, but the former coaching staff did not leave nearly enough behind as was evidenced in Saturday’s 34-10 smack down by Western Michigan University. It is hard for this writer to conceptionalize that a directional school could have more athletes on hand than a power 5 team like Illinois, but that is actually currently the case.

With all that being said, the Illini had some early chances. The defense throttled the Broncos on their first 2-3 possessions, but when the offense couldn’t move the football, it was just a matter of time before the WMU high-octane offense got into gear. Our offensive problems kept our defense on the field way too long, and the Broncos exploited that on air, and land, and at sea!

By not scoring on one of those early offensive possessions, it continued to put Illinois’ defensive backs to the wall and they were almost helpless to stop the onslaught. If the defense covered the pass well, WMU hurt them on the ground. When the defense bottled up their backs, the Broncos hurt Illinois via the air. It just seemed to be an exercise in frustration and futility, all afternoon long.

Western Michigan lit the tote board three times in the first half, twice on runs by Jamauri Bogan, the first for one yard and the second he rambled in from 36 yards out. Then Bronco QB Zack Terrell took one in himself from 3 yards out and before our cooking grills had cooled off for the day, we were in a big hole down 21-0.

The Illini finally scored, but it took a razzle-dazzle, double reverse pitch back to the quarterback to get somebody open. That somebody happened to be Ainslie Johnson, who caught the 56-yard pass from QB Wes Lunt to make the score 21-7. The Broncs tacked on a field goal to close the first half scoring with the Illini trailing 24-7.

Since Illinois had won the pregame coin toss (virtually the only thing that went right all day) and had deferred, they would receive the second half kickoff. All of us optimists were saying, score a touchdown and get back in the game. Once again Illinois came out as flat as they had started the game and began placing their defense in harm’s way again, by leaving them out on the field for too much of the action.

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Illinois missed another good offensive chance when a 3rd down pass headed for two wide-open receivers was thrown too high and was unable to be hauled in for a touchdown that would have kept the Illini marginally close. When they settled for a 22-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal at that juncture the writing was on the wall.

WMU’s J Franklin and Butch Hampton tacked on 10 more Bronco points to make the final score 34-10, but the final outcome had been decided way before that! The Illini just couldn’t seem to execute the game plan on either side of the ball and Western Michigan never acted like they were an inferior opponent from the start. In fact, they took it to Illinois all day. You rarely see an opponent as comfortable as the Broncos were Saturday in Champaign.

It wont get any easier for Illinois as up next is a road tilt at vastly improved Nebraska, who was a 49-28 winner over Oregon. Hopefully Illinois will find some ways to move the football, manage and control the clock, not over work the defense, and ultimately find ways to put points on the scoreboard. This is a tough stretch for the Illini, but hopefully lessons learned now, will have some payoffs later in the season.


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