A breakdown of Western Kentucky vs. Illinois

By Sean Neumann

The Illinois secondary better be ready because it’s going to face its first real challenge Saturday.

Western Kentucky runs a quick offense. Its no-huddle approach is set up to call off a flurry of plays and catch the defense off guard — the Hilltoppers ran 97 plays in Saturday’s 59-31 win over Bowling Green.

Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty had a career game in its season opener against Bowling Green last week, setting school records for total yards (569), touchdowns (six) and completions (46).

“He runs their offense extremely well,” Illini head coach Tim Beckman said. “He has great precision with his passes, especially the deep ball.”

Doughty completed eight 20-plus yard passes Saturday — three of which went for touchdowns.

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Hilltopper wide receiver Antwane Grant, who caught two touchdown passes, said the Western Kentucky offense believes it’s not a “one-game wonder.”

“The offense was clicking,” Grant said. “The running game and passing game was clicking. Everybody was on the same page. It wasn’t a surprise to us.”

Western Kentucky has depth in its offensive threat as well. The Hilltoppers rushed for two touchdowns and 139 yards, while the passing game flourished. Six different players scored touchdowns for the team as they set a school record for most points since they joined the FBS in 2008.

“We’re going to have to be ready to stop the pass because that’s what their first motive was — to pass the football,” Beckman said.

Illini defense may flourish

Despite the 28-point rout, Western Kentucky showed cracks against Bowling Green. The offense fumbled the ball three times. Illinois’ defensive line is coming together better than most expected, combining for three sacks and seven tackles for a win Saturday against Youngstown State.

“We’ve got to be able to affect the quarterback with four guys,” defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. “We’re going to pressure him — that’s what we do — but if you can get there with four guys, it makes everybody’s job a little bit easier.”

The Illini secondary will be under the most pressure against Western Kentucky’s passing offense Saturday, while the defensive line will look to hurry Doughty in the pocket. “I think we’re ready for it,” defensive back Zane Petty said. “I’m just anxious to see what our secondary can do against an offense like that.”

Illini look to take advantage

Western Kentucky’s 59 points is the big threat for Illinois, but the Hilltoppers allowed 31 points against Bowling Green and how they allowed it is good news for the Illini.

Western Kentucky allowed 313 passing yards on 465 yards of total offense. Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt threw for 155 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone after a slow start in the first half.

“I just got more comfortable as the game went on,” said Lunt, who was content with the victory but not his early performance. And Beckman agreed with the quarterback’s self-assessment, while understanding the sophomore transfer has a tall order this season.

“There’s a lot on the plate of our quarterbacks,” Beckman said. “As he progresses in this offense, he’s only going to get better.”

With the Hilltoppers allowing 17 first downs through the air and an average of 12.5 yards per catch last week, Saturday’s matchup with Western Kentucky is a game where Lunt’s arm will be relied upon.

Sean can be reached at [email protected].