The student newspaper from the University of Illinois, The Daily Illini, and the Western Herald teamed up to provide two perspectives for their readers of the match-up between Western Michigan University and U of I’s football team. The column by the Western Herald‘s sports editor, Adam Roberts is followed by a column from The Daily Illini‘s assistant sports editor, Dan Welin.
Kick-off starts at 12 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The game will be televised on ESPNU and streamed live at ESPN3.com.
Sports Editor of the Western Herald
Last year around this time was a familiar match up as Western Michigan University took on Illinois on Sept. 24, 2011 at Champaign, Ill, which resulted in a close, yet, upsetting loss 20-23. This year could be a turning point as WMU takes on Illinois today at Champaign, Ill. The crucial point in winning the ball game, in some people’s eyes, would be either the defensive line or the leader of the offensive line, 5th year senior at quarterback Alex Carder.
Both teams have advantages on both sides of the field as impact players. For example, Alex Carder continues to improve his play every year he is on the field. Carder’s record went from 289 completions out of 458 attempts in the 2010 season to 330 pass completions out of 502 attempts in the 2011 season. This year could very well be his most effective year as quarterback.
With the experience Carder has in tossing the ball around and the numbers that follow him, there could be a huge advantage over this Illinois defense. On the opposing side junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who put up some respectable numbers completing 14-20 passes for 133 yards and one touchdown during the last meeting against WMU. Another player that deserves to be mentioned that was a great part of the Illini team offensive success is sophomore running back Donovonn Young, who had his first 100-yard game, rushing for 100 yards on 12 carries (8.3ypc) and scoring one touchdown last season.
Defensively speaking, as of last year, WMU and Illinois seem to be evenly matched in most categories. Although the numbers do not always speak for themselves, there can be some possible big performances from 5th year senior DE Freddie Bishop with a total of four tackles, 0.5 tackle for a loss of five yards, and 0.5 sack of 5 yards. Sophomore SS Justin Currie, who had a total of three tackles and the only interception for WMU in that game also has people looking. On the Illinois side, we can expect results from senior DL Michael Buchanan, who had a total of 5 tackles, 1.5 tackle for a loss of seven yards, one forced fumble, one sack for a seven yard loss and three quarter back hurries.
Comparing teams statistically speaking or not, the pace of the game seeks promise for a competitive match up.
Assistant Sports Editor of The Daily Illini
In 1947 Western Michigan and Illinois played for the first time. The Illini won 60-14.
The next three meetings between the two teams have been decided by a combined 12 points, with Western Michigan claiming its only victory in the four game series at a neutral site game at Ford Field in 2008.
Due to Illinois’ fortune of filling in positions vacated by departing players and Western Michigan’s inability to do so, 2012 seems like a good season for the Illini to keep their fans’ heart rates regular against the Broncos for the first time since that 46 point drubbing in the 40’s.
Fifth year senior quarterback Alex Carder has thrown for 7,207 yards and 61 touchdowns the last two seasons. With a completely new wide receiving corps needing to develop chemistry, especially in a game setting, playing the Illini on the road isn’t going to aid that cause.
One would think the loss of last year’s sack leader and current Houston Texans’ first round draft pick Whitney Mercilus would downgrade a defensive line, but defensive line coach Keith Gilmore has continued to fill the holes left by departing players.
Out goes Mercilus, in comes Michael Buchanan.
His speed off the end in combination with his 6’6” 240-pound frame makes him a threat to every offensive line he will face this season.
Add in Akeem Spence, Glenn Foster and Tim Kynard and the going could get rough for Carder early Saturday.
In his first season as head coach, Tim Beckman couldn’t ask for a more familiar opponent, or quarterback for that matter, to start his Big Ten coaching career.
“We’ve got to control him I think that’s the biggest thing and we did not do that, last year at Toledo,” Beckman said. “We had two freshmen starting in that football game due to injuries, but that’s no excuse.”
Now that he has Big Ten caliber players in Buchanan and Jonathan Brown, along with an experienced secondary in Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green, Beckman’s defense shouldn’t allow nearly as many points as the 63 his Toledo defense allowed last year.
As far as scoring points goes this season, it’s not clear how many points fans can expect to see on the scoreboard each game.
After an offseason of confusion about the offense – that wasn’t necessarily cleared up during the media availability this week – it is still relatively a mystery as to what to expect come Saturday.
Offensive coordinator Chris Beatty made it a point to say that he’s not a fan of a two quarterback system.
That is interpreted to mean that Nathan Scheelhaase will be the starter for the third consecutive season, which shouldn’t come as a surprise due to his ability to throw and run.
His critics usually say that he runs too much and that he can’t complete throws.
Given the offensive line struggles last season and the lack of depth after A.J. Jenkins, his limited time in the pocket and lack of targets shouldn’t be placed under the microscope.
What he needs to effectively run this offense is a steady offensive line and a few more weapons that can help move the chains.
That lack of depth behind Jenkins from last season carried over into this season, but a recruiting victory from National Signing Day 2011 should offer glimmers of hope this fall.
Jon Davis chose Illinois over Kentucky back in 2011 and I can imagine that Beckman and his staff can’t be happier to have a physical specimen, such as Davis, that can catch and run with the football, especially with a talented quarterback who’s missing proven passing targets.
The pressure to score shouldn’t be as evident this week as long as the defensive line gets good pressure on Carder.
The same can’t be said going forward.