Predictions for the Week 2 matchup against Western Kentucky


Quentin Shaw

Illinois wide receiver Malik Turner catches a pass for a successful fourth down conversion during the game against Ball State on Saturday, September 2, at Memorial Stadium.

By Cole Henke

While Illinois football was given all it could handle in Week 1 with Ball State, a bigger challenge stands at the ready.

Western Kentucky is better than Ball State. It’s as simple as that, and if the Illini want to win against the Hilltoppers, they will have to play at a much higher level than they did in the season opener.

The Illini’s flaws have been well-documented for months now. The offensive line, defensive line and secondary are all dominated by inexperienced players, and depth is basically non-existent barring the running backs on the team.

Those flaws came to the forefront in Week 1 in a big way, but honestly, I think the Illini are in for a stronger Week 2. This leads to my first prediction for the Week 2 matchup.

The Illini will look better on offense

Pretty much all of the Illini’s problems on offense can be traced back to the offensive line. Quarterback Chayce Crouch was constantly having to worry about his blindside all game, which led to him being unsure about most of his throws. Meanwhile Kendrick Foster was basically irrelevant all game because the offensive line couldn’t make many gaps for the shifty running back.

I suspect that the offensive line will play a little better this game. They are still going to be a work in progress, especially since Western Kentucky will be trying to pressure Crouch as much as possible to hide its weak secondary, but Crouch will have a bit more time in the pocket to make decisions.

With that time I expect offensive coordinator Garrick McGee to try to throw downfield to wide receiver Malik Turner a bit more frequently. The Illini are going to need big plays to beat the Hilltoppers, and McGee has shown in the past that he isn’t afraid to take chances.

Improvements on the offensive line will also give Foster some more room to run, which will give the Illini a dangerous one-two punch in the backfield between Foster and running back Mike Epstein. Picture what they had last season with Foster and Reggie Corbin.

While I think the offense will play better this week, I think the defense won’t be in the same boat.

The Illini defense is going to have a rough weekend

Last season, Western Kentucky was one of the most explosive and efficient offenses in the country. Hilltoppers quarterback Mike White picked defenses apart on a weekly basis.

With new head coach Mike Sanford at the helm, the Western Kentucky offense has become much tamer, but is still efficient.

The Illini secondary had several slip-ups last week, but ultimately were able to prevent too much damage. That isn’t going to be the case on Saturday night. White is a dangerous quarterback in a pro-style offense. I bet he throws for no less than 300 yards and two touchdowns this weekend.

If the Illini had defensive back Jaylen Dunlap to fall back on this weekend, I think they would stand a slightly better chance, but so far there is no indication he will return from his injury.

Mike Dudek will have another big weekend

Sanford has made it clear this week that one of the players he is most worried about on this Illini squad is wide receiver Mike Dudek. I’m not expecting him to put up 100 receiving yards or anything, but one thing I know is this guy is a baller, and he is going to do everything he can to leave his mark on the game. Whether it’s as a receiver or as a punt returner, Dudek will have a couple big plays. He showed he could do it as a freshman and he showed he could do it last week.

Illinois will lose

When it’s all said and done, I do believe the Illini will lose this game. The Western Kentucky offense is going to prove too much, and the Illinois offense won’t be able to match its production.

Cole is a senior in Media.

[email protected]