Illinois football looks to get last home win before Big Ten season

Illinois+head+coach+Lovie+Smith+watches+his+team+from+the+sidelines+during+the+game+against+North+Carolina+at+Memorial+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+September+10.+The+Illini+loss+48-23.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach Lovie Smith watches his team from the sidelines during the game against North Carolina at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 10. The Illini loss 48-23.

By Cole Henke, Staff writer

Illinois football head coach Lovie Smith said he likes to break his seasons up into quarters.

Saturday’s matchup against Western Michigan is the last game of the first quarter for the Illini. A win this week means entering Big Ten play with a 2-1 record.

A win won’t come easily: despite the game taking place at Memorial Stadium, as of Wednesday they are a three-point underdog to the Broncos.

“We don’t need a lot of motivation (to win) right now,” Smith said. “We lost last week, and that is motivation enough for us right now. I don’t think University of Illinois is ever an underdog playing at home.”

Western Michigan is 2-0 on the season, and have already beat a Big Ten team in Northwestern. It is the team’s best start to a season since 1994.

The Broncos’ biggest threat to the Illini is definitely their explosive offense, which put up 70 points against North Carolina Central last week. They are led by senior wide receiver Corey Davis.

In two games, Davis has already racked up 220 receiving yards — Malik Turner, Illinois’ leading receiver, has 116 receiving yards in two games — and has caught three touchdowns.

Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell has also gotten off to a monster start this season. The senior is averaging 236 yards per game and has thrown five touchdowns in two games, four of which came in the blowout win over North Carolina Central.

Illinois defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson said that his team is preparing for the Broncos’ explosive offense. North Carolina gave the Illini some experience against a high-scoring offense, and according to Nickerson, his team will learn from their mistakes last week.

“The tempo of their offense is very similar in that regard,” Nickerson said. “They both have very good skilled players, so that gets you ready. What we have learned is that in those crucial situations, we will be able to bounce back, and make the plays that we weren’t able to make last week.”

Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee is working to keep his side of the ball more disciplined: they committed seven offensive penalties against North Carolina and punted on six straight possessions at one point.

McGee is also preparing for a unique defensive style from the Broncos.

“They are good. They play an interesting style of defense,” McGee said. “I have read all of the stories, I have read a lot about their defensive philosophy. They believe in stopping the run. That is their defensive philosophy. They believe if they can hold a team under 100 yards rushing, then they have a 92 percent chance to win the game.”

So far, Western Michigan has held opponents to an average of 114.5 rushing yards per game. The Illini are averaging 234.5 rushing yards per game. McGee said he will be relying on his offensive line to open up holes for the Illini running backs, despite true freshman Gabe Megginson being helped off the field with a leg injury against North Carolina. Smith refused to give an update on the injury, but he was wearing a walking boot at practice Tuesday.

The Illini counted on offensive lineman Jordan Fagan to fill in for Megginson the rest of the game, and may be counting on him to contain the Broncos’ defensive line.

“(Fagan) has shown me a lot since spring ball and training camp,” McGee said. “He came back with a lot more energy and enthusiasm. He is a big, athletic kid that is going to be around for a few more years. That is how he earned his time on the field.”

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