Western Illinois Preview: Tough Leathernecks

The Western Illinois University football team visits Illinois Saturday for the first time in history. Coming off an exciting four overtime victory in their first game of the season, the Leathernecks believe they can win despite their underdog status.

Western Illinois is an athletic and confident team accustomed to winning, and they are ranked 23rd right now in Division 1-AA. Coach Don Patterson has been successful wherever he's been. He was an assistant under coach Hayden Fry at Iowa for 20 years, spending the last seven years as offensive coordinator. He knows how to win and will give the Illini all they can handle Saturday.

Co-Defensive Coordinator Curt Mallory thinks highly of Coach Patterson.

"I've known Coach Patterson for a long time. I've always had a great amount of respect for him as his program has always been successful. They've always done it the right way."

The Leathernecks are led offensively by star running back Herb Donaldson (5-11, 220). The junior has played in only 14 total games, but he is already just 25 yards short of tenth place on WIU's all-time career rushing list. He was named this past week to the Walter Payton Award Watch List.

"They've got a great running back in Donaldson, he was the third leading rusher coming back from I-AA," explained Mallory. We've got a lot of respect for him."

Co-Defensive Coordinator Dan Disch echoed Mallory on Donaldson.

"They have a fine running back who could play for about anybody. He's a tough, physical back."

Zack Wells was the quarterback starter last week in WIU's four overtime thriller victory over South Dakota State, but his injury during the game allowed versatile redshirt freshman Matt Barr to take over. Barr, the 6'-2", 210 signal caller from Belvidere, Illinois, rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown, the most ever for a Leatherneck quarterback. He also completed 18-24 passes for 128 yards and one touchdown. He is expected to be the first freshman to start at quarterback for WIU since 1990 when he visits Illinois Saturday.

Barr has a great receiver in Carl Sims. The 6'-1", 190 pound Milwaukee product has the attention of Illini coaches. As Mallory says, "They have a top receiver in #1 Carl Sims. He is a great weapon."

Patterson's close association with Hayden Fry makes him a candidate for using misdirection and "exotics", trick plays designed to catch opponents off guard.

Illini Coach Ron Zook concurs but knows Patterson is not a Fry clone.

"He's also a West Point graduate, so he's going to do the things that make him successful. I don't think there's any question we will get some different looks. And I noticed the tight end standing up, which is something Coach Fry used to do at Iowa. And they do a lot of screens and a lot of things Coach Fry used to do. He's going to feel like his team can come in here and compete. If we don't play, they can take it to us. They will be ready to play."

Coach Mallory describes the Western Illinois offense.

"They're going to mix it up. They will try to stay 50-50 pass/run. They do a nice job. When they throw the ball they have a great wideout, and when they run the ball they have a fine running back. (Barr) can do a lot of things and is a dual threat. We're going to have to keep him contained because if he gets out on the perimeter, he can make a lot of things happen.

"They do a fine job with their screen game, both getting it to their receiver Carl Sims and getting it to their running backs."

Coach Disch says the proper philosophy for defending the Leathernecks is basically the same for any opponent.

"Every week, we go in trying to stop the run. We need our kids to come out and play with emotion, just like every week. We always want to go in and make quarterbacks have some doubt and pressure them. So if you stop the run and make a team one dimensional, then you can pressure the quarterback. So our goal is to put them into 2nd and 3rd and long, and then they've got to throw the football. Then you bring heat."

Western Illinois is no slouch on defense either. Sophomore cornerback Patrick Stoudamire (5'-11", 185) had two interceptions last week, the first and last passes of the game. He was named defensive player of the week. 6'-2", 235 pound linebacker Travis Cherry had 12 tackles plus a sack and forced fumble in his first game since being injured early last season. Junior defensive line transfer Josh Gallaway (6'-2", 250) recorded the first two tackles of the game and had a sack in his debut.

Senior linebacker Jerome Bennett (6'-1", 235) led the nation in forced fumbles last year. And he ranked 21st nationally in total tackles (10.2). But the Leathernecks' best linebacker may be Jason Williams (6'-3", 235). The junior from Chicago DuSable is looking for a breakout season. Coach Zook used a reference with which Illini fans can relate when discussing WIU's defense .

"You go back and look at them in their game against Wisconsin last year, they held (P.J.) Hill to 101 yards in 39 carries. Wisconsin got an interception or it would have been a lot closer game."

WIU also has a solid kicking game. Junior Taylor Rowan kicked five field goals against South Dakota State last week, and has 91 consecutive PAT's.

The Leathernecks believe they can win. They are accustomed to winning, they have some top athletes who have transferred in from big time schools, and their roster is dotted with Illinois products who wish to prove they belong in the Big Ten. According to Coach Zook, Illinois will have their hands full if they take the game for granted.

"There are a lot of players coming in here this Saturday who could be playing with us right now. There's no doubt in my mind. We'll get their best game. Upsets (Like Michigan) happen. If you're not ready to play, you can get beat."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories