Saturday, September 24, 2011
Illinois survives scare from Broncos
By Brian Bennett
The Illini are 4-0 for the first time since 1951. But it wasn't easy getting there.
Illinois 23, Western Michigan 20: For much of the preseason and the first two weeks, we talked mostly about the Illini offense. But the past two games, Illinois has gotten the job done with its defense.
The offense was inconsistent most of the day, and the defense repeatedly had to bail the team out. Alex Carder and the Broncos were slinging it around the field all day and basically ignoring the running game. While Western Michigan found plenty of success through the air and managed to tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter, the Illinois defense made plays when it had to, just as it did last week in a tense 17-14 win against Arizona State. The Broncos had the ball in the final minute with a chance to tie or win but couldn't even get in field goal range as the clock ran out.
Meanwhile, when the Illini needed to win the game, they turned to their running game. Nathan Scheelhaase spent a lot of time in the option, and Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young ran with confidence. Pollard had 133 yards and Young added 100. They weren't able to go in for a score or a kneel down with their final drive, but they ate a lot of clock with that ground game and put Western Michigan in a tough spot.
So Ron Zook's team remains undefeated and will likely stay ranked. This team has some flaws, but it keeps finding ways to win. Up next is the conference opener against Northwestern, and Illinois will enjoy the comforts of home for a fifth straight week to open the season.