Western Michigan Preview

In the third game of the Illini's football season, Illinois is welcoming the Western Michigan University Broncos into Memorial Stadium. The Illini are looking to regain confidence after the humiliating defeat to UCLA last Saturday. Western Michigan comes into Champaign after getting humiliated last week as well by Virginia Tech 63-0. <br><br> What should Ron Turner and the Illini expect from Western Michigan? Read more to find out.

It has been a tale of two very different games for the Western Michigan Broncos. Sure, the tale of both games can probably be told by the talent level of their opponent. In the first game of the season, the Broncos defeated Tennessee Martin 42-0, and then in last week's game they were the shutout victim losing to Virginia Tech 63-0 (this raised the Hokies record to 3-0 over Western Michigan since 2001 with a score differential of 124-0).

Against Virginia Tech, Western Michigan could only muster 272 yards of total offense, while they let up 487 yards (332 in the air) to the Hokies. In the Broncos 42-0 victory over Tennessee Martin, the statistics were obviously in the favor of the Broncos. The Broncos had 323 total yards of offense (215 in the air), while they held Tennessee Martin to just 222 total yards (136 in the air).

The Illini will not be the only team heading into Saturday's game desperately needing a win for their coaching staff and team's psyche. After winning MAC West Division Titles in 1999 and 2000, Western Michigan has gone 14-21 (11-13 in the MAC) placing Head Coach Gary Darnell directly on the hot seat. A win over Illinois would do a lot for the Bronco confidence, and might be enough.

The Western Michigan starting quarterback Blayne Baggett suffered a rib injury in the first half against Virginia Tech and at the time of writing this article, his status for Saturday was still questionable. If Baggett cannot play against the Illini junior Ryan Cubit will start for Western Michigan.

Before the season started Baggett and Cubit were in a battle for the starting quarterback position, and Baggett won the job. Before getting injured against Virginia Tech, Baggett was 7-9 for 53 yards and one interception. Cubit, who came into replace the injured Baggett last Saturday, finished out the game by passing 18-29 for 121 yards and one interception.

Either way the Broncos go they will be in the hands of an experience quarterback. Cubit transferred to Western Michigan from Rutgers where started for his first two seasons, setting freshmen passing records with 1,433 yards and nine touchdown passes in his first collegiate season. Cubit's father, Bill is a former offensive coordinator at Western Michigan, and he was the one who installed the offense they currently run. While Cubit was on the sidelines last season, Baggett played in five games last season and recorded pedestrian stats.

In two games this season, Western Michigan has yet to have one back total a combined 100 yards rushing. This is a sharp contrast for the last seven years, as five times in the last seven years, the Broncos have had a 1,000 yard rusher on their roster. One their roster this year, the Broncos have both a speed back and a power back. Their speed back is junior Trovon Wiley, and the power back is junior Daniel Marks.

Wiley ran the ball twenty-two times against Tennessee Martin for 85 yards and one touchdown, while he only carried the ball seven times against Virginia Tech. Western Michigan Head Coach Gary Darnell has stated that Wiley is the fastest back they have had in Kalamazoo since 1998.

Marks did not carry the ball against Tennessee Martin, and he saw the majority of the work for the Broncos against the Hokies. He rushed the ball fourteen times for 67 yards last Saturday.

The Broncos will probably come into Saturday's game against the Illini trying to use both running backs. They will try to rush Marks up the middle of the defense, and use Wiley on the outside.

When discussing the wide receiver position for Western Michigan, only one name needs to be brought up, and that is junior Greg Jennings. Last season was when Jennings broke out onto the national scene, and became a name feared by many in the MAC. He had a school-record fourteen touchdown passes, to go with his 1,050 yards on 56 catches. So far this season, Jennings has been the recipient of double teams and major attention by all opposing defenses. Even with all the extra attention he is receiving, Jennings still caught nine passes for 75 yards against Virginia Tech last week, and four catches for 33 yards against Tennessee Martin.

Joining Jennings in the wide receiving corps are seniors Eugene Childs and Tyrone Walker. These two are not the only receivers that the Bronco quarterbacks can rely upon, as they spread the ball out. In both games this season, at least eight different Western Michigan receivers have caught a pass.

The Western Michigan offensive line is still looking to find that cohesiveness they need as a unit. They are returning three starters from an offensive line last season that struggled to establish a rushing game and allowed thirty nine sacks.

They key to the Bronco offensive line is sophomore Robbie Krutilla, who is taking over at center despite just having one year of college experience.

Darnell believes that this year's line should be better than the lines in the past because all five players have at least some experience on the offensive line at the Division I level, but so far this season the Broncos have only combined to rush for just over one hundred yards per game.

Western Michigan took a huge loss at the end of last season when they lost the two-time MAC Defensive Player of the Year. The presence that Babin brought to the defensive line is something that Western Michigan can't replace, and the hole on the defensive line was definitely seen last Saturday against Virginia Tech. Even without Babin, the Broncos do have talent on the defensive line. The defensive line this season will be bolstered by senior defensive rush end Jack Gitler who had seven sacks and nineteen tackles for loss last season while earning All-MAC second team honors.

The linebacking corps for the Broncos should be improved after last season's rebuilding effort. The Broncos play a two linebacker system and will start senior Mike Giorgianni who started 10 games and recorded 52 tackles last season. Starting alongside him is sophomore Paul Tithof, who after being forced into action last season recorded 88 tackles.

Illini Inquirer Top Stories