Western Michigan 34, Illinois 10
CHAMPAIGN - So can Western Michigan now claim to be Chicago and the state of Illinois' Big Ten team?
Following a Week One win at Northwestern, the Broncos (3-0) brought a stampede to Champaign. WMU coach P.J. Fleck's team dominated Illinois (1-2) at Memorial Stadium from the start to earn its second win over a Big Ten team this season, a program first.
Meanwhile Illinois suffered its worst loss to a Mid-American Conference opponent in program history. Its previous two losses to MAC teams were by six (Western Michigan, 2008) and three points (Ohio, 2006), respectively.
WMU scored three touchdowns in a span of 3:19, ending at the 14:56 mark of the second quarter, to take a commanding 21-0 lead. Broncos running back Jamauri Bogan scored touchdowns on drives of 60 and 81 yards that spanned just 1:44 and 0:44, respectively. Then a controversial Wes Lunt fumble seemed to bury the Illini.
It appeared as if Eric Assuoa hit Lunt while the Illini quarterback was throwing forward. But the ruling on the field was a fumble and the call stood after a video review. WMU took over at the Illini five-yard line, and WMU quarterback Zach Terrell scored two plays later on a three-yard touchdown run.
Western Michigan ran for 287 yards on 54 carries (5.3 yards per carry) and controlled the ball for 35:00 to Illinois' 25:00. Illinois ran for just three yards on 15 carries (0.2 yards per carry).
Bogan ran for 189 yards on 24 carries (7.9 yards per carry), and Jarvion Franklin added 78 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Receiver Corey Davis added four catches for 97 yards.
The Illini's lone touchdown came on a 56-yard double-reverse flea-flicker pass from Lunt to tight end Ainslie Johnson.
Lunt completed 29 of 42 passes for 312 yards (his fifth career 300-yard game. He threw his first interception of the season in the fourth quarter.
Malik Turner hauled in nine catches for 107 yards, his second career 100-yard game.
Attendance dropped from 60,670 last week against North Carolina to 40,954. Very few remained in the stands for the final whistle.
What it means
The honeymoon never lasts as long as you hope. We knew 2017 would be a struggle for Lovie Smith, who took over a program with so many roster issues. But 2016 looks like it will be a long slog too. Western Michigan has shown that it can not onyl compete against Big Ten teams but beat them (how many games would WMU win in this Big Ten West? Five? Six?). Still, this is an alarming loss for Illinois and one that could set back their progress (recruiting, anyone?). The Illini now must win five games during Big Ten play (something they haven't done since 2007) to clinch bowl eligibility. Smith never claimed to have a quick fix. But Illini fans better bear down. This rebuild is going to be a painfully long process. Still, this is not the start Smith, nor athletics director Josh Whitman wanted.
What went right
Illini quarterback Wes Lunt was far from perfect (he checked down far too often), but he was much more comfortable in the pocket and helped the Illini move the ball. This is a small positive because he and the offense just couldn't finish drives or make any huge plays besides the flea flicker. Lunt must push the ball down the field more. He settled for check-down throws and missed receivers downfield.
Carroll Phillips added two sacks and is proving to be a premier pass rusher. Rob Bain blocked field goal, his fourth career blocked kick. Patrick Nelson showed promise in his few drives replacing Julian Hylton at free safety. The hard-hitting redshirt freshman earned more playing time.
What went wrong
Western Michigan looked like the Big Ten rushing attack. The phenomenal Broncos offensive line got a push and created holes against the Illini all day. The Illini have a great pass-rushing defensive line, but Lovie's defense calls for disruption instead of space-eating. His defense got pushed around and lost gap discipline against the Broncos.
The end-of-first-half drive was a huge one for WMU. Illinois felt good after the Johnson touchdown and had the chance to get back in the game with another score before halftime. But WMU got the ball back with 6:39 left, drove 65 yards on 11 plays, ate up 5:25 of clock and made a 32-yard field goal that increased its lead to three possessions.
The staff didn't correct last week's penalty issues (13 for 99 yards against UNC). Illinois shot itself in the foot again, committing seven penalties (48 yards) -- most in the first half. The Illini are undisciplined.
The referees made a game-changing blunder on the Lunt "fumble," and didn't overturn it when they had the chance.
Reggie Corbin broke up a pass to Justin Hardee on a key third down near the goal line. Corbin and Hardee are on the same team. The embarrassing play -- it counts as a drop -- cost the Illini four points. On the same drive, Lunt underthrew Turner on a wide-open deep route. Turner still had a chance to haul it in but dropped it. The play may have gone for six.
The Illini offensive line has been beat up and bad in the rushing attack the last two weeks. Jordan Fagan started at guard but got beat on an outside zone run (resulting in a drive-killing two-yard loss) early in the game, and he was quickly replaced by true freshman Darta Lee who had his own struggles. The Illini received a further scare when senior tackle Austin Schmidt limped off the field in the first half and was replaced by senior Connor Brennan. But Schmidt returned later in the half. Still, the offensive line was the second-best offensive line on the field on Saturday -- a huge issue entering Big Ten play.
The Illini kickoff coverage was poor. WMU averaged 33.0 yards per kick return.
Star of the game
The Western Michigan offensive line: The Broncos front five dominated the line of scrimmage and dominated the game. The Broncos averaged 5.8 yards per rushing attempt.
The Illini have a bye week before starting Big Ten play on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Nebraska. This is the fourth straight season that Illinois has started conference play against Nebraska and the third of four at Lincoln. The Illini lost 39-19 at Nebraska in 2013 and 45-14 at Nebraska in 2014 before upsetting the Cornhuskers 14-13 last year in Champaign, breaking a six-game and 91-year winless streak against Nebraska.