Illini football prepares for Western Illinois with a sense of normalcy

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  • Illinois running back Josh Ferguson celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the game against Kent State at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, September 5.

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By Michal Dwojak, Staff writer

After a two-week span that included the firing of the Illinois football team’s head coach and the postponement of its season opener, the focus is about the product on the field.

Quarterback Wes Lunt hopes things calm down after the chaos of the last couple of weeks. Although head coach Bill Cubit acknowledged that the whole season won’t be like the adreline rush the Illini have experienced so far, he also warned against becoming too comfortable.

“I don’t think there’s ever normalcy, because you’re always on edge,” Cubit said. “I don’t think there are any issues we’ve had last week so it’s a little bit better, but as soon as you relax, something’s going to come up.”

Illinois’ 52-3 rout over Kent State showed the potential this season’s team has. Most of the starters were taken out after the first half because the Illini lead 38-0. But the game wasn’t perfect. The team committed eight penalties for 80 yards during the game, five of which were pre-snap penalties.

The large lead also presented playing time for young players. Of the 29 pass attempts thrown by three different passers — Wes Lunt, Chayce Crouch and yes, cornerback V’Angelo Bentley — 14 were caught. Young wide receivers like Sam Mays and Desmond Cain were guilty of dropping some passes but Cubit reiterated his confidence in their ability to learn quickly.

Young players will also need to adapt to the speed of the regular season. The Illini have had a week to prepare for Western Illinois, rather than an entire offseason, which they used to prepare for Kent State. Each player will need to balance watching film, workouts and school, which might be difficult for underclassmen.

“I think some of the young guys will be shocked by the speed of the implementation of the offenses and defenses, they’re going to have to catch up,” Cubit said. “It’s going to be an education process for us.”

The Illini will face an in-state rival that had little trouble beating Eastern Illinois to start the season. The Leathernecks defeated the FCS-No. 25 Panthers 33-5 in impressive fashion. Quarterback Trenton Norvell, a transfer from Cincinnati, completed 18-of-35 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and running backs Steve McShane and Devon Moore combined for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Western Illinois’ defense allowed Eastern’s passing game 153 yards and forced three interceptions.

Despite the rout of Kent State and Western Illinois’ FCS status, Illinois players know they can’t overlook the Leathernecks. There’s an increased motivation because Western Illinois is an in-state rival and the players are motivated by the athletic department’s motto: Our State. Our Team.

“We do a good job of treating everybody the same,” Taylor Barton said. “We didn’t overlook Kent State at all, so we won’t overlook Western Illinois, we won’t overlook UNC, won’t overlook anybody. Each week is a new week and we have to get ready.”

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