Fighting Illini Preview

Following an embarrassing loss to Virginia Tech last week the Broncos will bus down to Champaign, Illinois to take on the Big Ten. The Broncos last defeated a Big Ten team in 2000 bringing down a resurgent Iowa team one week after taking #4 Wisconsin to the wire. Read on to find out what to expect from the Illini, and what the Broncos must do to walk away with a big win.

This week's game will be the battle of the battered quarterbacks. Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer, in his sixth season after being granted a medical redshirt, will start for the Illini after being injured in their loss to UCLA.

Beutjer threw for 374 yards and 2 touchdowns with a completion percentage of 70%. Also in the game for Illinois was redshirt freshman Brad Bower who threw for 132 yards completing 65% of his passes.

For the Broncos Blayne Baggett left the game against Virginia Tech after he felt a "pop" and was held back in practice this week. Former Portage Central star and Bronco backup Ryan Cubit will get the start, but Baggett is expected to be ready if needed. "I think Blayne can play, I wouldn't hesitate to play Blayne," said Gary Darnell. "We'll do what we have to do to be competitive in the football game."

Both teams can beat you in the air with Kendrick Jones of Illinois coming off his second straight 100+ yards receiving effort. Jones has 4 catches for over 40 yards already this season. At Western Michigan it's multiple threats with Greg Jennings and Tyrone Walker excelling at receiver while Tony Scheffler and Tyson DeVree are a double threat at tight end.

The real difference maker, however, could be the running game. Against Florida A&M the Illini amassed 296 rushing yards and added 208 more against UCLA. E.B. Halsey was the main attraction against UCLA running for 97 yards, but trails Pierre Thomas for season honors. Thomas has averaged 8.3 yards per carry so far this season.

For WMU Trovon Riley has been the go-to guy in the running game while Daniel Marks has been the stable backup. Expect to see more of Mark Bonds this week also as he has moved into the #3 spot ahead of Nick Saad and Lawrence Cannon.

On defense Illinois runs a 4-3 defense almost exactly like the defense Northern Illinois runs. This is a complete reworking of the Illini defense after hiring away NIU's defensive coordinator Scott Shafer to be the secondary coach joining another former NIU coach Mike Mallory who is UI's defensive coordinator. These coaches, after last season's lack of success for Illinois, brought over the NIU defense for the Illini to run.

Expect the Illini to keep their defensive systems simple while being very aggressive in attacking the ball. This attitude is very similar to what J.C. Harper has instilled at WMU, attacking the ball and keeping the systems simple.

One of the leaders of the Illini defense is Kelvin Hayden who will be playing just his third game at cornerback after converting from offense. Hayden leads the team with 17 tackles and three turnovers caused.

WMU defensively will need to rely on their secondary to improve over last week. WMU was torched by the long ball all game long against the Hokies and Gary Darnell doesn't want a repeat of that game. "It just a matter of concentrating on your keys," said Darnell.

Leading on defense for the Broncos are linebackers Paul Tithof and Mike Giorgianni. Giorgianni had a game high 11 tackles against the Hokies while Tithof picked off his second career interception and runs #2 on the team in tackles for the season right behind Giorgianni.

True freshman Scooter McIntosh at strong safety, who got his first start against Virginia Tech, paces the team with 3 tackles for a loss for 13 yards. Earnest Osborn paces the team in sacks with 2 for 9 yards lost.

With both teams possessing explosive offenses and modest defenses Saturday's game has the potential to be a high scoring affair that could go either way.

Gary Darnell has one key for the Broncos to come away with a win at Memorial Stadium, "Poise." Darnell added, "As the ebbs and tides of the game go along [we must] keep poise and focus to the final result. If something goes bad that's just part of it. [We need to] make sure we do our work as the day goes along."

UPDATE:

It was announced last night after the Illini practice that redshirt freshman Brad Bower will get the start at QB ahead of the senior Beutjer.

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