Illinois snuck by Ball State last week, and all of our staff chose the Illini to win that game. With everyone sitting at 1-0 entering Week 2, here are TCR’s staff predictions for this week’s game versus Western Kentucky!
Stephen Cohn: Illinois 27, WKU 21
Will Illinois put up 27 points after struggling to put up even 21 against Ball State, a lower-tier MAC school? Probably not, but Mike (Dudek) and Mike (Epstein) having big games sure could help them get close to that, and they could give the Illini a chance to pull off the pseudo-upset. If Illinois’ line provides QB Chayce Crouch the time in the pocket to get rid of the ball and the front seven on defense contains WKU QB Mike White, Illinois can stay competitive. If the Illini win the turnover battle and feed off what should be a good atmosphere in a Saturday night game at Memorial, Illinois will walk away with a win, and the first 2-0 start in two years.
Austin Jabs: Illinois 38, WKU 35
Oh please don’t let this just be blind optimism running about. After a dreadful opening weekend against Ball State, I think the popular thing it to pile on the Illini and expect a bad second week game against a solid opponent. I honestly believe that Illinois improved as the game went on and showed talent and ability to close out the game and secure the win. If the Illinois running game can get going (paging Mike Epstein) and Dudek can get some separation down the field, Illinois could add a good win to their resume and continue their undefeated season. The big question mark will once again be the offensive line play. If there is anything the Illini must do this week to have a chance to win, it is get some improvement from the line in order to give Crouch and the running game time to materialize.
Michael Berns: WKU 35, Illinois 24
Western Kentucky can score and score fast through the air. The Illini need to run the football well to win this game, and typically a good running game won’t keep pace with a good passing game. The Illini will dominate possession and try to win the game through ball control/clock control, but it won’t be enough to match a couple of big plays by WKU quarterback Mike White. Another key will be the Illini front seven. Can they pressure Mike White to either sideline, forcing him to throw on the run outside of the pocket? If White has all day to throw, this will be a long, long day for the Fighting Illini.
Ian Gold: WKU 41, Illinois 35
Western Kentucky is the type of litmus test I want on Illinois schedule next season. New ball coach Mike Sanford has an experienced group coming off a conference championship, but, should be a team that a healthy Power-5 program beats. Frustratingly for Illini fans, this isn’t yet a healthy program. Hilltopper quarterback Mike White threw for 4363 yards and 37 touchdowns last season, and is most likely licking his chops after seeing Illinois week 1 film. While Hardy Nickerson’s group didn’t allow big plays downfield, the lack of pass rush and defensive backfield inexperience puts a patient offense in plum position to pick up unopposed chunks of yardage through the air. I expect Crouch to connect on a few more big plays with Turner and Dudek and keep this one exciting.
Brad Repplinger: WKU 28, Illinois 17
This has shades of Louisiana Tech in 2014 written all over it.
Sure, WKU doesn’t quite have the firepower they used to have...but you have to consider that Illinois’ strongest area on offense is throwing the football. The Hilltoppers have 3 returning players in the secondary, and that doesn’t bode well for Chayce Crouch behind a shaky O-line. The Illini will struggle to produce on offense, and Western Kentucky will put together enough production to grab their first road win under new Head Coach Mike Sanford. Where’s the kool-aid?
What’s your score prediction for this week’s game? Let us know in the comments!