Illinois looking for a fast start this weekend

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman watches a replay after a referee’s call during the game against Youngstown State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. The Illini won 28-17.

By Charlotte Carroll

It’s an aspect of the game that the Illinois football team has worked on all summer: starting fast.

And while Illinois snagged a 28-17 win on Saturday over Youngstown State, it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the offense finally exploded with three touchdowns.

“I don’t care who we play against,” head coach Tim Beckman said. “We’ve got to start faster … That’s got to be adjusted regardless of who you’re playing.”

The team struggled to keep the offense on the field. The Penguins maintained possession for 40:01 of game time compared to Illinois’ 19:59.

The Illini managed to even out possession by the fourth quarter, but it was the Illinois defense that kept the game close. Mason Monheim completed 14 tackles and with the defense, helped hold Youngstown State to 3.4 yards per rush.

“We made them one dimensional,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “I thought we did a really good job of stopping the run. Any time you can make them one dimensional, it makes everything else a little better. If you’re allowing them to run the ball, it sets up their play action and puts a lot of people in trouble.”

“What I thought Wes did extremely well was that he took his game — we weren’t playing very good early in that football game — and he took his game to another level in that fourth quarter,” Beckman said. “Which showed exactly what our capabilities are and in making plays with him. That as a football coach, that’s what I like to see.”

The Illini are looking to use that experience in their next contest this weekend in the first meeting against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are coming off a 59-31 romp against Bowling Green in which quarterback Brandon Doughty broke records in passing yards (569), passing touchdowns (six) and total offense for the team (702).

This week, the Illinois defense will transition from a run-heavy team in Youngstown State to looking to a quicker paced, throwing offense in Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers made 96 total offensive plays in their game against Bowling Green compared to Illinois’ 60.

“It’s a different style,” Banks said. “They’re going to be a lot faster. The tempo will be a lot faster. Just getting that communication, understanding what the call is. But again, we like to think, being a veteran unit, this won’t be our first time seeing a speed team. We’ll be able to get lined up, communicate and be able to execute.”

For Illinois, starting fast and stopping that passing game will be critical. Western Kentucky put up two touchdowns in the first quarter. Illinois scored just one touchdown in its first half against Youngstown State.

“It’s going to be a quick game and that’s something we’ve been preparing for since Day One with Beckman,” nose tackle Austin Teitsma said. “I think we’ll be alright. Definitely this week, we’ll be pushing the big guys to run a little bit, so that will be good for us. It’s all heart, definitely all heart for us. They’re going to be spreading us out and throwing the ball a lot. So they’ll have us running a lot, but we can do it.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected] and @charlottecrrll.