Illini open season with win over Western Michigan, 24-7
The Tim Beckman era is off to a good start after a 24-7 win over Western Michigan on Saturday.
Illinois got out of the gates quick, scoring on a 64 yard touchdown from Nathan Scheelhaase to wide receiver Ryan Lankford on the fourth play of the game. Later in the quarter after missing a 45 yard field goal, new Illini kicker Nick Immekus would hit a 42 yarder and to give Illinois a 10-0 lead to end the first quarter.
Scheelhaase added a rushing touchdown in the 2nd quarter but would leave the game in the early part of the second half with an ankle injury. Once he left the game, the Illini struggled to move the ball. Scheelhaase went 11 for 18 for 126 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in about 2 quarters of play. Back up QB Riley O’Toole went 2 for 3 for 7 yards and added 3 yards on two carries. The third QB Miles Osei had 8 yards on three carries with no passes attempted.
Running back Donovonn Young had a bad game running the ball. Young had just 2 yards on 11 carries, but did add 24 yards on 6 catches. Redshirt freshman Josh Ferguson had 38 yards on 11 carries and one catch for 5 yards. But the player of the day in the Illini backfield was TE/HB Jon Davis. Listed as a TE, Davis took several snaps out of the backfield while gaining 54 yards on 6 carries for a 9 yard average.
With Nathan Scheelhaase out of the game in the second half, and Illinois holding a 17-7 lead, linebacker Ashante Williams picked off Western Michigan QB Alex Carder for a 60 yard interception return TD, and a 24-7 lead. Williams added 9 tackles to his stat line, while safety Earnest Thomas and defensive end Michael Buchanan both added interceptions. Buchanan started his senior campaign really strong, adding a sack and 2 TFL to his one interception. DT Akeem Spence and LB Jonathan Brown shared a sack as well on the day.
The Illini looked like a dangerous team in the first half, but once Scheelhaase went down it looked like a different team. Scheelhaase’s health will be a key to the season if they want to have success. The defense won’t be able to carry them all year if they have to rely on sophomore Riley O’Toole.
Illinois plays @ Arizona State next week at 9 PM CT on ESPN.