The Illini didnt play a perfect game on Saturday against Western Michigan.... but they did play a overall solid "workmanlike" game in beating the Broncos from Kalamazoo 24-7 on a surprisingly dry day in Champaign.
With a torrential morning downpour from the remnants of the former Hurricane Isaac scaring some fans away from attending the opener of the Tim Beckman era...the Illini offense started the 2012 season with a bang. A 64-yard touchdown strike from Nathan Scheelhaase to Ryan Lankford on the 4th play of the season opened the scoring ......with Lankford catching his first touchdown in nearly 2 years. New kicker Nick Immekus nailed a 43 yard attempt (after missing from 45) .....and in the second quarter..... Scheelhaase scrambled in from the 4-yard line. Meanwhile Michael Buchanan was causing havoc on the defensive front and the Illini defense had picked off two passes. Everything seemed to be rolling along just fine at 17-0 Illinois at the half.
Then a little trouble started for Illinois with the Illini offense stalling out in the second half after Scheelhaase left the game in the 3rd quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Meanwhile Western Michigan finally got its offense moving a little and had closed to the gap to 17-7. They were driving again in the 4th quarter when Ashante Williams stepped in front of a pass and sealed the game for Illinois with a 60 yard interception return for touchdown.
Williams...who began last year on the suspended list .....also led the Illini defense with a career high 9 tackles. He was part of a defensive unit that controlled the game from start to finish.
The special teams didnt have a great day (a missed 45-yard FG, a short punt against the wind)...but also wasnt bad either (43-yard made FG and a 72 yard punt with the wind to run out the clock in the first half). There wasnt much punt return yardage (1 yard)...but I think Tommy Davis (transfer from Northern Illinois) will do a good job back there as the season continues.
There is some leftover concern about the offensive production in the second half....and any potential lingering effect from Scheelhaase's sore ankle.....but all in all....a pretty good day.
Even the weather cooperated.
Next up...a revamped Arizona State team that scored 63 points in their season-opening win over Northern Arizona. Like Illinois...the Sun Devils have a new coaching staff and a lot of excitement building out in the desert. The Illini have some improvements to make....but so do most college football teams after one week.
Talk to you late Saturday night from Tempe.