Welcome to the TCR GameThread! The Fighting Illini welcome the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to Champaign tonight, and Steve Bourbon will be covering the action for us. Make sure to refresh this page throughout the game for updates and analysis on the Orange and Blue.
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We'll have a recap up shortly after the game concludes; all post-game discussion should take place there.
15:00 - Western Kentucky has won the coin toss and opts to receive. Kickoff coming momentarily.
14:14 - Hilltoppers go three and out. A few changes in the starting lineup for the Illini defense, including Stanley Green at safety and Isaiah Gay at defensive end. Gay puts the pressure on WKU's Mike White on third down to force an incompletion.
13:21 - Illinois starts near midfield after a poor Western Kentucky punt but goes three and out, highlighted by a pair of incompletions from Chayce Crouch. Blake Hayes' punt goes out of bounds at the Western Kentucky 20-yard line.
Illinois started four true freshmen on offense for the first time ever (RB Epstein, TE Dorsey, OL Boyd, OL Palczewski).— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 10, 2017
11:59 - After allowing Ball State to convert 12 of 21 third-down conversions last week, Illinois stops another Hilltopper drive after just three plays. A 10-yard punt gives the Illini the ball at the WKU 36-yard line.
8:45 - Points! Chase McLaughlin bangs home a 37-yard field goal to get the Illini on the board first. Freshman Ricky Smalling records his first career catch, but is stopped short on third down.
Illinois 3, Western Kentucky 0
5:19 - Western Kentucky is on the move as Mike White is finding his groove at quarterback. A 9-yard completion would put the Hilltoppers at the Illini 23-yard line, but that catch is under review. Looks like the receiver stepped out of bounds before catching the pass, so this should be overturned.
A four-minute review for this?— Jeremy Werner (@JWernerScout) September 10, 2017
4:48 - Instead of trying a 42-yard field goal that could have tied the game, the Hilltoppers go for it and are tackled short on fourth and four. Good pressure by Tre Watson who came untouched on a blitz to force a bad throw on third down.
Illini players who played as true freshmen:— Robert (@ALionEye) September 10, 2017
2017: 17 (so far)
3:20 - Third and 1 for Illinois and instead of running the ball, Garrick McGee dials up a play-action pass to tight end Henry McGrew in the flat. Crouch's pass is a little ahead of his receiver, and McGrew can't hang on. Hayes punts 46 yards.
2:03 - WKU commits an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty which all but kills its drive before it got started. Dudek has yet to have a chance to return a punt, Illinois takes over at the 35-yard line.
End of 1st quarter: Illinois 3, Western Kentucky 0
First quarter stat leaders:
Illinois - Crouch: 3-8, 9 yds; Epstein 4 car, 22 yds; Dudek 2 catches, 10 yds
WKU - White 8-13 60 yds; Ferby 3 car, 8 yds; Fant 2 catches, 19 yds
Mike Epstein pic.twitter.com/KtLbpObBBV— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) September 10, 2017
9:59 - The good: more points! The bad: it's another field goal. Epstein got loose on a few plays to help Illinois move the ball but back to back carries from inside the 2-yard line from Ra'Von Bonner are stuffed. Have to think the Illini need to start scoring touchdowns instead of settling for field goals.
Illinois 6, Western Kentucky 0
7:16 - Huge tackle by Patrick Nelson to snuff out a Hilltopper drive as the sophomore flipped D'Andre Ferby on third down. Illinois continues to play press man on the edges with just a single safety in the middle of the field. So far, Mike White and co. haven't been able to find a rhythm against the Illini.
Patrick Nelson shall stop this 3rd down pic.twitter.com/uDyDlDXYJf— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) September 10, 2017
6:01 - Illinois' drive begins with fumbled snap in shotgun but could've easily converted on third down if Malik Turner doesn't drop a wide-open pass. Three consecutive passes that drive, and Hayes' punt just makes it to midfield.
4:28 - Western Kentucky is now 0-for-6 on third downs this game after the Illini defense struggled to get off the field last week. Illinois will take over at its own 15-yard line, two timeouts remaining in the half.
1:32 - Classic Lovie Smith decision to punt on fourth and 4 from the Western Kentucky 36-yard line. Highlight of the drive (other than Crouch nearly getting picked off on a deep ball to Turner) was a 20-yard completion to freshman Louis Dorsey. At 6-foot-6, 225 lbs., Dorsey is very smooth and has nice hands. He's one to watch.
1:21 - Julian Jones scores! Mike White is under pressure and simply lofts a floater directly to Jones, who returns it 10 yards for a touchdown. Lovie Ball at its finest as the punt pins the Hilltoppers back and the defense puts points on the board.
Illinois 13, Western Kentucky 0
Julian Jones INT return TD was Illinois' first since Darius Mosely at Rutgers (10/15/2016).— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 10, 2017
0:55 - Roundtree gets a sack and forces a fumble and Jamal Milan recovers! Play is under review. Would be a huge takeaway as the Hilltoppers had entered the red zone after a rash of personal fouls, including targeting on Tre' Watson, who is ejected for the rest of the game.
0:36 - Epstein fumbles, but recovers it. Illinois has recovered all three of its fumbles this game. WKU using its timeouts to force Illinois to punt before halftime. These past two minutes have been rather eventful.
0:19 - Western Kentucky dinged for a block in the back on the punt return. Hilltoppers have nine penalties for 80 yards in the half. Hilltoppers have it with no timeouts at their own 46.
HALF: Illinois 13, Western Kentucky 0
12:01 - Illinois on the move to start the half. A deep out to Dudek picks up 20 yards and Epstein rumbles for a first down. Illini nearing midfield.
8:19 - Crouch goes waaaaaay up and over on a scramble to earn the rushing touchdown. Beautiful 15-play drive right out of halftime to really put the Illini in the driver's seat.
Illinois 20, Western Kentucky 0
Chayce Crouch Touchdown pic.twitter.com/9wQpf6uPDA— IllinoisLoyalty (@IllinoisLoyalty) September 10, 2017
6:37 - Western Kentucky is forced to punt once more as the Illini stuff a pair of runs on 2nd and 1 and 3rd and 1. Tymir Oliver, Isaiah Gay and Owen Carney all making contributions. But a sideline penalty gifts the Hilltoppers a first down.
4:28 - Back to back drops by wide-open Hilltopper receivers sets up 3rd and 20 from the Illinois 36-yard line. WKU calls timeout to talk it over.
4:16 - Jamal Milan hits White as he throws to force an incompletion. This has been a truly dominant outing for the Illinois defense, the defensive line in particular. Illini can put this one on ice with another touchdown.
2:13 - Illinois punts after a bad spot brings up 4th and 1 instead of a first down on a completion to Turner. Blake Hayes boots a 52-yard punt and add on a block in the back to push the Hilltoppers back.
End of 3rd quarter: Illinois 20, Western Kentucky 0
13:12 - Crouch is intercepted trying to throw a deep out route. Western Kentucky takes over at the Illinois 29-yard line.
11:38 - The shutout is gone as Western Kentucky gets a touchdown to pull within two touchdowns. Illini need to have a solid drive here to reclaim momentum.
Illinois 20, Western Kentucky 7
Mike Epstein is the first Illinois true freshman with 100+ yards rushing since Ke’Shawn Vaughn at Purdue 11/7/2015.— Illini Stats & Notes (@IlliniStats) September 10, 2017
8:49 - Mike Epstein is over 100 yards for the day. One interesting wrinkle is that Kendrick Foster has just three carries for 11 yards.
4:34 - Illinois punts from the Ball State 33-yard line and the ball is fair caught at the 12. Hilltoppers still have a pulse but only one timeout remaining after burning a pair of them early in the half.
2:45 - That should just about do it. Bobby Roundtree recorded another sack and Western Kentucky turns the ball over on downs. Illini can smell 2-0.
FINAL: Illinois 20, Western Kentucky 7