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TCR Staff Predictions: Illinois vs. Western Illinois

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We see a 2-0 start.

Kent State v Illinois Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Jacob Rajlich

Facing their only FCS opponent of the season, Illinois should definitely pick up their second win of the season this coming week. Illinois needs to show that they’re able to play a good game for four quarters, unlike the tale of two halves which last week’s game was. If Illinois can’t do so, even if they end up winning the game, you can practically kiss any more wins this season goodbye. Good opponents won’t allow for the Illini to make up for a bad half, and Illinois needs to knock out the habit of having bad halves now. Illinois 45, Western Illinois 17

Brandon Birkhead

I was a bit too overconfident last week that anything could go easily for this Illini team. I was thinking they would see a relatively routine Big Ten beating a MAC team win, but what we saw was Illinois and Kent State play dead even, with Illinois coming out in the end due to two second-half interceptions. Illinois did show much more effectiveness in the second half however moving to a more power-running strategy. I think they may come out with that to start against WIU and the Illini will start better. I also think WIU is not as good as people think given that they lost so much from last year’s FCS playoff team. The Leathernecks lost their head coach and Jaellon Acklin who had 47% of the receiving yards for WIU in 2017. They lost to Montana State in their first game. This is not last year’s WIU. Illinois will win, but it won’t be as easy as it should be. Illinois 34, Western Illinois 23

Mark Schaer

Back to reality. Like many of the writers, I overestimated the offense’s ability to score for their first two quarters of football of the season as well as the defense’s ability to stop a solid dual-threat quarterback. In my defense, the suspensions of Louis Dorsey and Carmoni Green on offense and Tony Adams, Nate Hobbs and Bennett Williams on defense hurt the cause. But all of those players will likely be out for the next two games, so that is not going to improve. I am confident that this team can beat Western, which is the only team on the schedule worse than Kent State. The Illini will come out a hair sharper in the first half, but don’t expect a large halftime lead. AJ Bush, Mike Epstein and Ricky Smalling will pull away later in the second half. The defense will look a little better, too. But man does Hardy Nickerson need those guys back if they want a chance against the rest of the schedule. Illinois 38, Western Illinois 17

Kyle Huisinga

Western Illinois is no slouch. One of the better FCS teams in the country last year, the Leathernecks won’t go down without a fight. This Illinois team strikes me as a second half team. They might start a bit sluggish, especially after the loss of Mikey Dudek for the year. What a terrible blow for the Illini and for Dudek himself. He’s tough as nails. Illinois will miss that mentality early on, but they’ll bounce back. Besides some rough misses against Kent State, I was impressed with some of the freshman defensive backs last weekend. Delano Ware and Jartavius Martin, specifically, look like naturals who will only get better. We really need these suspended players back before South Florida, though. Lou Dorsey would especially take some of the sting from losing Dudek. AJ Bush will again play a solid game, Smalling and Reggie Corbin go off, Illinois wins handily in the second half. Illinois 42, Western Illinois 21

Matt O’Neall

I thought Illinois would win comfortably last week and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I know nothing about Western Illinois, but I can imagine they’re more than a little fired up to play the state school. I’m hoping there is a good portion of the Illini locker room that was embarrassed by how they played last weekend, and is eager to prove what they are capable of. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how much more they are capable of right now. Illinois wins the first quarter, WIU battles throughout the middle of the game, but the Illini finish the job in the fourth. Illinois 38, Western Illinois 20.

Austin Jabs

Maybe my rose colored glasses skew my hopes a bit more. I expected a huge win last week, and I was let down. However, there was solace in the second half, as the Illini outscored Kent State 28-7. Bush made several deep throws, something that has been lacking from this offense for a few seasons now. He and the receivers should be able to hook up on a couple of those and we should see some much needed endzone therapy. I expect a much better performance out of Illinois this weekend as everyone gets in a groove. Illinois 45, WIU 14

Thumpasaurus

I’m calling my shot. Illinois will have a tough week in practice after an embarrassing first half against Kent State and will come into this game with a chip on their shoulder. This coaching staff hears people predicting that they’ll be the team to give Illinois its first-ever loss to an FCS team. They understand that they’re going to need to play a lot better than they did last week if they want this rebuild to go anywhere. And to that end, I think they will demonstrate before everyone that they have the situation under control. Western may have fielded a pretty good team last year, but they had a playoff team the last time they came to Champaign and were turned away 44-0 in 2015. Given that the Leathernecks are poised to take a step back as a program, I’m calling my shot. Illinois 52, WIU 3

Stephen Cohn

I don’t know why people kept telling me that Western Illinois would be better than Kent State. Illinois literally just had to face an Auburn reject and a team that might be one of the top squads in the MAC in the coming years. I don’t care what Western throws at the Illini on Saturday, but Illinois will have a much better time. It’s disappointing to still see the guys suspended, as well as the end of Mike Dudek’s season, but if AJ Bush has any more consistency with his wideouts and Illinois’ trio of backs come through, this should be a big win for the Orange and Blue. Illinois 42, WIU 7

Tristen Kissack

Last Saturday started out rough on both sides of the ball for Illinois. Woody Barrett seemed to march down the field with ease against the defense, and the offense couldn’t muster any sort of momentum in the first half. I expect things to be a little more put together overall after a dismal first performance. AJ Bush continues to make plays with his feet and also establishes some rhythm with his receivers. Illinois 34, WIU 21

Ben Ford

The offense will be better out of the gate, compared to last week, but I still foresee some conservative play calls and quick trigger on kicking field goals instead of pushing drives. Against a likely, somewhat competent defense, I can see points being fewer and further between than anticipated. That being said, I cannot imagine Western will move up and down the field like Kent State did last week. Woody Barrett is a good player, and he single handedly kept drives going, while doing a pretty good job of protecting the football. Illini will get a defensive score if they bring any pressure this week. Illinois 27, WIU 7

Brad Repplinger

*takes a healthy swig of Orange Kool-Aid*

They’re gonna light Western up on Saturday night like a damn Christmas Tree. So help me if this Illini team doesn’t destroy the Leathernecks, I’m gonna need to start drinking something else. #Oskee Illinois 77, WIU 0

Raul Rodriguez

I picked a 56-3 blowout over Kent State and a close call happened. So, I’m picking a close call this week in hopes a blowout happens. Illinois 21, WIU 13

Matt Rejc

I wrote about this game during the cold, dark offseason and called it the absolute must win game of this season. Western Illinois finished fourth in the MVC last season, and lost its head coach, leading tackler in Brett Taylor, and leading receiver in Jaelon Acklin. I can’t see them winning this game even against an Illini team that looked all kinds of confused in the first week. That said, this game is going to be way closer than a game between a B1G program and an FCS school should be. Illinois 38, WIU 21

Michael Berns

This is the only ‘must-win’ thus far in Lovie Smith’s tenure at Illinois. He can’t lose this game — not to an in-state FCS opponent. On paper, Illinois’ roster is worse than the rest of the teams they’ll play this season after Western Illinois, and Lovie and his Illini must capitalize. Expect this team to rally from the loss to Dudek and hopefully with the help of some of the suspended-now-potentially-back players. Illinois 42, Western Illinois 10

Ian Gold

That Vegas line of Illinois -7 is playing major tricks on me. I feel like Rod Smith’s offense I saw in the third quarter will be the predominant outcome against Western Illinois. But then again, Vegas knows. Vegas always knows. And they think this one’s going to be another barnburner. I think Illinois rallies around the loss of Dudek and the Illinois offensive line has a more complete performance, allowing AJ Bush and his trio of backs to run the football consistently throughout. Reports from practice also might be hinting at a few key guys returning to the defensive secondary. Illinois 45, Western Illinois 24

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