Illini impressive in Beckman's debut
September, 1, 2012
By Brian Bennett | ESPNChicago.com
There were concerns about the Illinois offense. There were concerns about Western Michigan, which played the Illini tough in Champaign last year. And there were concerns about the weather.
Turns out there was little need to worry about Tim Beckman's debut as Illinois head coach. His team turned in a strong overall effort in a 24-7 opening win against the Broncos.
It all revolved, not surprisingly, around the the Illini's stout defense. Normally high-scoring Western Michigan, which put up 63 points on Beckman's Toledo squad last season, didn't hit the board until the fourth quarter and had only 246 total yards. Illinois held the Broncos to negative-6 rushing yards and forced four turnovers.
The key turnover came with 9:06 left, when Ashante Williams intercepted Alex Carder and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. Michael Buchanan and Jonathan Brown also had big days on defense.
The Illinois offense, moving to the spread under Beckman, didn't do a whole lot after producing 17 points in the first 23 minutes. The offense totaled only 248 total yards and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. But it was more than enough on a wet day.
The concern now turns to quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who was carted off and missed the entire fourth quarter with a left ankle injury. Reilly O'Toole played the rest of the way. At this point, Scheelhaase's availability for next week's game at Arizona State is unclear, though Beckman said immediately after the game that he expects his starter back.
The main takeaway from today is that Illinois is off to a good start under Beckman, with some things to build on.