Going into the September 9, 2017 matchup between the Fighting Illini and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, few Illini fans were expecting an easy victory. From 2013-2016, former Head Coach Jeff Brohm led the Hilltoppers to a combined record of 30-11 and had secured back-to-back Conference USA championships in 2015 and 2016. Needless to say, the Western Kentucky football program was accustomed to winning.
However, the departure of Coach Brohm to Purdue in 2017 meant that the Hilltoppers needed to adjust to new Head Coach Mike Sanford Jr. The uncertainty of a new coach gave Illinois fans hope that perhaps the Illini could take advantage of Western Kentucky’s lack of familiarity with their new coaching staff. That seemed to be the case through much of the first half, as the Illini defense smothered the Hilltoppers.
By the end of the second quarter, the Illini had pushed Western Kentucky back into their own end zone, setting the stage for a desperation pass and a 10-yard pick-six for LB Julian Jones.
Sometimes a good defense is the best offense.pic.twitter.com/yFzQOEeq69— Illini Football (@IlliniFootball) September 10, 2017
The pick-six proved to be all that was needed to outscore the disjointed Hilltopper offense and secure the second, and last, Illini win of the 2017 campaign.
Jones gets recognition for the interception and the score on the play, but great pass rushing by LB Del’Shawn Phillips, DE Bobby Roundtree and DE Isaiah Gay on the play made the ensuing interception possible.
Although Julian Jones is no longer on the roster, it’s important to keep in mind that these returning players played a big role in creating this decisive turnover, and hopefully will help to force many others in the future.