Western Michigan the ‘better team’ in frustrating Illini loss



By Daniel Johnson

DETROIT – Illinois entered Ford Field with tempered expectations on Saturday morning. Forgetting the prospect of the beginning of year, the Illini were trying to salvage what they could – a final push toward assuring themselves the eight wins the team thought would guarantee it a bowl berth.

Unfortunately, Saturday’s game against Western Michigan became a microcosm for the season that might have been. Illinois came out of the gates slowly, built momentum in the second half and put itself in position to win the game, only to come up painfully and confoundingly short in a 23-17 loss.


photo DI multimedia



Illiniois stumble to Western Michigan

Click to view an audio slideshow.

“I was thinking we were going to be a better team than we were last year, and we were going to do better things,” a shell-shocked Arrelious Benn said. “We just haven’t been able to get it done.”

Benn, quarterback Juice Williams and the rest of the Illini offense was able to put up a statistically strong night, with the sophomore catching seven balls for 111 yards and the quarterback passing for 328 yards on 20-of-45 attempts. But the Illini offense, as it had in weeks past, was unable to make the crucial, timely score.

The inconsistency manifested itself in the final drive and the final four Illinois downs. After an electrifying and hope-inducing 54-yard completion to A.J. Jenkins, the Illini had four attempts at a potentially game-winning score from the Western Michigan 18, but Williams was unable to connect with any receiver.

“It’s difficult when you let opportunity go to waste,” Williams said. “Now, we have to win both of these games to get to a bowl.”

Illinois head coach Ron Zook was understandably impatient and beside himself after the loss, hardly mincing words when he spoke. His counterpart, Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit, was elated.

“I’m going to say it’s the best (win) since I’ve been around at Western,” the Broncos head coach said.

Cubit credited the win in large part to the play of receiver Jamarko Simmons and quarterback Tim Hiller, who was 28-of-40 passing for 301 yards. The head coach also elaborated on how the defensive pressure that was applied to Williams and the Illini offense was something the team was aiming for, but hardly anticipated accomplishing.

“I didn’t, to be honest with you, I didn’t know, I was hoping,” Cubit said. “I was afraid that if we didn’t get to him, with their receivers, he was going to hurt us. But we got to (Williams) hitting-wise, when you do that, you want to release the ball a little bit quicker. But, I didn’t think we’d get that much pressure on him, to be honest with you.”

Defensive back E.J. Biggers was able to reap the results of the defensive pressure, a 44-yard interception return of a Williams pass. It was the fifth game Williams has thrown at least two interceptions.

“When you get a lot of pressure on the quarterback, it’s easy in the secondary,” Biggers said. “Balls were floating around, and all you had to do was react on them and make plays.”

Simmons seemed to make all the plays the Broncos would need offensively, catching 11 balls for 174 yards and one score – en route to setting a new Western Michigan record for career receptions. Cubit said he lost “four of his five” best receivers, before and during the game, but expected Simmons to make up for it.

“I know they have Vontae Davis, a top-10 draft pick,” Simmons said. “But at the same time, at Western we have each other. We thought we were a better team than they were.”