Broncos hope to rebound

By Lisa Koulias

Although the two schools are in different conferences, Illinois football and this week’s opponent, Western Michigan, have a lot in common.

Both teams have felt the thrill of victory and the bitterness of defeat, all in two weeks.

The Broncos easily won their first game of the season over Tennessee-Martin, 42-0. But last week the team didn’t fare well, falling to Virginia Tech 63-0 on the road.

The team’s loss marked its worst in school history. Six of Virginia Tech’s nine touchdowns were scored by either freshmen or redshirt freshmen.

“I don’t think you dwell on the past but I don’t think you forget it either,” said Gary Darnell, head coach of Western Michigan. “I truly do find some things that were good (out of last week’s loss). I just believe for us it was a pretty unique experience all around. I really believe that games like that break bad teams and make good teams, so I am anxious to find out which one we are.”

But like Illinois, Western Michigan lost its starting quarterback in Saturday’s game. Blayne Baggett, like Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer, was hit at the end of the first quarter and didn’t return to the game. His status for this week’s game is uncertain. Before the junior left, he had completed 7 of 9 passes. Broncos running back Trovon Riley also left the game with an injury, but returned in the third quarter.

“I think both of them are possibly able to play,” Darnell said. “I think Trovon is more likely than Blayne.”

If Baggett has not recovered, Ryan Cubit will start at quarterback for the Broncos. The junior transfer from Rutgers finished last Saturday’s game completing 19 of 30 passes for 113 yards.

If Cubit starts for the Broncos, Illinois head coach Ron Turner will know a little more about their QB. Turner tried to recruit him out of high school.

“We are very familiar with him. We tried to recruit him so we know a lot about him,” Turner said. “He came in and did an outstanding job. They have two quarterbacks that are very similar in size and athletic ability. They have very good accuracy, poise.”

And on the flip side, Western Michigan is familiar with Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Brad Bower, who it tried to recruit as well.

“Bower was a guy we had in camp here,” Darnell said. “We thought he was a fine quarterback; he was a guy we actually recruited so we have high regard for him.”

Ranked in the MAC

Western Michigan’s special teams unit ranks among the best in the MAC. The Broncos lead in punting, thanks to Adam Anderson’s 45.4-yard punting average. They are also first in kickoff coverage, where they hold opponents to 12.9 yards per return.

On the other side of the ball, the Broncos rate third in the league in punt returns and kickoff returns. Greg Jennings ranks third in the MAC in punt returns while teammate Tyrone Walker is fourth in the MAC in kickoff returns.