A 2-0 start to the season is well within reach for the Orange and Blue with the Illini’s in-state neighbors to the west heading to Champaign for a Saturday night tilt at Memorial Stadium. But the Illini should avoid sleeping on a Leathernecks bunch coming off an 8-4 campaign that resulted in a playoff spot for the men from Macomb in 2017.
Western will, no doubt, be stinging from a 26-23 week one loss at Montana State, in which they didn’t trail until the final minutes of the game and out-gained the host Bobcats 317 to 252. Close road losses are becoming an unfortunate trend for the Leathernecks who dropped their first round FCS playoff match-up 21-19 to Weber State in Ogden, Utah, to wrap up a largely successful 2017 season.
Head coach Jared Elliott will also look for his first career victory as the main man at Western Illinois, being promoted to the position in January 2018 when previous head coach Charlie Fisher left to join Herm Edwards’ inaugural staff at Arizona State. Elliott served as quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator during the 2017 season.
Western returns five starters on both sides of the ball from last year’s group, including quarterback Sean McGuire, who threw for 164 yards with two touchdowns and two picks in the opener.
The Leathernecks’ player to watch, though, will be jack-of-all-trades back Steve McShane. McShane scored all three Western touchdowns at Weber State, catching a pair and rushing for the other, finishing with 116 all-purpose yards. McShane is poised for a monster season, coming off a 2017 where he led the Leathernecks in touchdowns, with 11 total — seven on the ground, three through the air, and one in the return game.
Expect Western to try to control the ball on offense to wear down a thin Illini defense. Western has a long reputation as a defensive oriented program, and the Leathernecks will want to frustrate an inexperienced Illinois offense to keep the game tight and give themselves a chance late.
The Leathernecks will need a strong defensive performance, as they look for their first ever points against the Illini in Champaign. Illinois leads the all-time series 2-0, shutting out Western 21-0 in 2007 and 44-0 in 2015.
Don’t count on this 2018 Leatherneck’s rendition to ponder on past failures in Champaign this weekend. Western will smell blood in the water after the Illini’s tight victory over Kent State, and the Leathernecks should carry a guarded confidence after a solid performance but disappointing opening result in Montana.
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