CHAMPAIGN — Tim Beckman's Illini debut wasn't a complete success.
The sight of Nathan Scheelhaase on a training table - his left ankle wrapped in ice - was unsettling.
But today was close to as good as it gets for an Illinois coach in his first game. Illinois showed promise and a hearty defense in a 24-7 win against Western Michigan at Memorial Stadium.
Most of the good concerned a playmaking defense that could be even more dynamic than last season. Ashante Williams provided the highlight, a 60-yard interception return for a touchdown that put the game out of reach. Meanwhile, the likes of Michael Buchanan, Akeem Spence and Terry Hawthorne made it tough for the Broncos to generate any sort of momentum. The Illini (1-0) forced four turnovers.
It was a big day for the big-play "D."
But there will be concern around Scheelhaase. The veteran quarterback suffered an apparent ankle injury in the fourth quarter and did not return. He finished 11-for-18 for 126 yards and one touchdown. Reilly O'Toole replaced Scheelhaase and was 2-for-3 for seven yards.
Scheelhaase's 64-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Lankford put Illinois on the board. Beckman celebrated his first score as coach with a high five to linebacker Jonathan Brown.
Even the sun was eager to see Beckman's first Illinois team, as it finally peeked through the overcast skies in the third quarter. The official attendance was 43,441, though no more than 15,000 were in their soggy seats at kickoff.
Live from Memorial Stadium — Illinois 17, Western Michigan 7 — End of third quarter
-Nathan Scheelhaase is on a training table on the sideline and has ice on his left ankle. He will not return today.
-At 1:27 p.m., sunshine splashed over the field - if only for a minute. Football 1, Isaac 0.
-Visited the sixth-floor suites at halftime. Lots of praise for Beckman's debut. "Loving it so far" and "seems like we're more disciplined" and "now that's a cold beer."
-Meyers Leonard said he's right around 250-254 pounds. Blazers staff doesn't want him adding too much weight too quickly. His first purchase was a Porsche, of course. His brother Bailey is out of the Marines and will stay with their mom in Robinson. Meyers also has a deal brewing with Nike and has his first trading card. Shout-out to Excel Sports for how they've handled Meyers Leonard during his NBA transition.
-Illinois says attendance is in the mid-20,000s.
-Ohio State leads Miami (Ohio) 35-3 in the third quarter.
-Going with Alabama 27, Michigan 12.
-Reilly O'Toole was 2-for-3 for seven yards on his first possession.
-Aside from that 64-yard touchdown pass... in the first quarter... the Illini's passing game is anemic.
Back for the postgame wrap-up.
Live from Memorial Stadium — Illinois 17, Western Michigan 0 — Halftime
-Tim Beckman's first half at Illinois was a rousing success. The stat that jumps out: Penalties. Illinois had only two - both in the final minute of the half. And the holding penalty on Hugh Thornton didn't arrive until 44 seconds remained in the half. Impressive for the first half of the first game.
-Lions tailback Mikel LeShoure checks in via Twitter: "Shout out to my Illinois boys! First game of the season let's go!"
-Tate thinks Spencer Harris deserves a look: "Ol' No. 80 runs pattern after pattern and never gets the ball!"
-Michael Buchanan is the rare athlete that stands out in a crowd. Tate said some of Buchanan's subtle movements remind of Simeon Rice.
-Western Michigan had nine rushing attempts for minus-7 rushing yards in the first half.
-Illinois has at least four NFL guys on defense, according to Marcus Jackson. Playmakers!
-Penn State leads Ohio 7-3 with 3 minutes left in the first half in State College.
-Nathan Scheelhaase: 9-for-14 for 106 yards.
-Alex Carder: 11-for-20 for 85 yards.
Back in a few.
Live from Memorial Stadium — Illinois 10, Western Michigan 0 — End of first quarter
-Looking forward to Centennial standout and Big Ten basketball prospect Michael Finke scribing a diary for the News-Gazette sports section this fall. His first entry is in Sunday's paper. Here's a snippet from Finke, who took an unofficial visit to Illinois on Monday:
"I was able to watch a practice, met with Coach Groce and his staff, toured some of the campus (some of what I haven’t seen) and heard Coach Groce’s vision for Illinois basketball."
-Illinois AD Mike Thomas said this morning there was "never a discussion" about moving today's game due the rain. And the weather is holding up just fine.
"You talk about the wind and the rain, (but) lightning is the thing that draws the most issues," Thomas said. "That’s when you hold up the game or suspend activity.”
-Nick Immekus went straight to the kicking net on the sideline after missing a 45-yard field goal attempt wide right. Then he made a 43-yard field goal on his next try.
-Over and over, Tim Beckman has lamented the lack of depth on his first roster. But goodness was he blessed with some playmakers on defense.
By the numbers...
2 - Career touchdowns for Ryan Lankford and his first since the 2010 season
1 - High five from Tim Beckman to Jonathan Brown after the long TD pass
70 - Percent of the student section was filled for the 11 a.m. kickoff
3 - And out for Western Michigan on its first possession
19-39 - Record for Dan Hawkins, ESPNU commentator, in five seasons as coach at Colorado
0 - Pen throws from Loren Tate, who has a man-crush on Western Michigan's punter
-Trail Blazer center Meyers Leonard also is in attendance today. He'll be in the press box at halftime. Robinson's finest departs for Portland on Tuesday.
-Marcus Jackson says he's from the "streets" of Chicago. Don't let him fool you. He's from the burbs.
Back at halftime.
Live from Western Michigan-Illinois — Kickoff
Paul Klee taking over for Marcus Jackson. Try my best to make this football-centric... but might get goofy and throw in some basketball notes.
-Attendance so far? Someone says 20,000 at kickoff? That seems generous. I'll say 12,000. The rain - even though it's not raining right now - altered many plans.
-Co-captains at midfield for the coin toss: Zach Becker, Ashante Williams, Justin Green and Graham Pocic.
-Basketball warning: 2013 super-prospect Demetrius Jackson arrived at Memorial Stadium and spent a few minutes on the field just before kickoff. He's with the Illinois coaching staff and on his official visit.
Back after the first quarter.
Live from Western Michigan-Illinois — 15 minutes before kickoff
Just had a quick visit with Lou and Mary Henson. I don’t know if there are nicer people in the world.
The Marching Illini is on the field. Might be more members of the band than people in the stands. Don’t blame the folks for staying away today.
Made the rounds here in the press box to get some predictions from the smart people up here.
Herb Gould from the Chicago Sun-Times says Illinois 20-17.
Mark Tupper from the Decatur Herald and Review picked Illinois 31-21.
Taylor Rooks from Fox Sports Next says Illinois will win by three.
Fletcher Page, also from Fox Sports Next, picked Illinois 31-17.
Jeremy Werner from ConnectFM picked Illinois 27-17.
I’m going Illinois 24-17.
Klee picks Illinois 35-14. Strangely enough, that was the same amount of points he had Illinois scoring against Penn State in basketball last year. Klee also predicts Jonathan Brown will have more tackles than tropical storm Isaac.
Loren predicts it will rain.
Read all their stuff tomorrow.
I’m turning this over to Klee. Again, he’ll update you at the end of each quarter. Enjoy.
Live from Western Michigan-Illinois — 30 minutes before kickoff
If you needed further confirmation that Tim Beckman is fired up for his Illinois debut, he just got the entire team in a big circle and did a lot of yelling while pitting offensive and defensive linemen against one another for a short shed drill of sorts. Beckman had to step in to separate Michael Buchanan from one of the offensive guys. I think everyone is fired up.
Injured safety Supo Sanni is on the field, but not in uniform. The senior is wearing shorts and won’t play today. Steve Hull is on the field going through drills with the defensive backs. We’ll keep an eye on him.
You might notice if you’re watching on TV that there are orange banners surrounding the walls on the field. Most of them pay homage to all the Illinois bowl appearances. It looks a heck of a lot better than those beige walls.
The field looks great, too. The turf was updated last month.
Klee tells us that Demetrius Jackson is on campus and he’ll be here today for the game. Jackson, a 6-1 point guard from Mishawaka, Ind., is on his official visit today with the UI basketball staff. You guys probably know more about him than I do.
Speaking of hoops, the men’s schedule was released this week. Klee broke it down here.
The women’s schedule came out yesterday. Matt Bollant is excited about all the home games and the quality competition.
We’ll be back with predictions soon.
Live from Western Michigan-Illinois — 45 minutes before kickoff
Most of the Illini are on the field now. It’s not raining — yet. There’s been much speculation about the Illinois uniforms this season. They’re going with the blue tops, blue pants and the familiar orange helmet today. I like the blue on blue.
Western Michigan is going with the old gold helmet, white tops, white pants.
One thing worth watching today is the Illinois kicker. Gone is the reliable Derek Dimke, who was released by the Detroit Lions last week. In steps sophomore Nick Immekus. He’s untested. But, he’s been kicking 48-yard field goals at the north end zone like it’s his job. Well, I guess it is his job, but you know what I mean. It’s a different story once the lights come on, though.
On the same token, punter Justin DuVernois is absolutely killing the ball right now.
It looks as thought the wind is blowing pretty good from the southeast. There’s a brand new huge flagpole in the northwest corner of Memorial Stadium. It looks good.
So far, I’ve seen a scout from the New York Jets in the press box. The early word from folks who know more about these things than I do is that Terry Hawthorne is one of the top two or three cornerback prospects in the country, Michael Buchanan is more highly thought of than first-round pick Whitney Mercilus was last year and Jonathan Brown is an absolute stud. It could be another big coup for the Illini in the next NFL draft.
Here’s some more pregame reading for you: Video game thinks Illinois loses today, Michigan-Alabama the cream of the crop. Read that here.
Alex Beckman, the son of Illinois coach Tim, played late in Urbana’s 33-14 win against rival Champaign Central last night. The freshman had one carry for minus 2 yards. Read all about the Tigers finally beating their rival here.
Be back soon.
Live from Western Michigan at Illinois — 60 minutes before kickoff
Good morning and welcome to the 2012 college football season. Marcus Jackson here providing updates until kickoff. At 10 a.m. Paul Klee, the Illinois Sports writer of the Year will provide updates at the end of each quarter.
As some of you may know, our football beat writer Bob Asmussen suffered a heart attack and has been in the hospital since Monday. He’s doing better and hopefully he’ll be able to return to work at some point this season when it’s safe for him to do so.
Did you hear that it’s raining? Spoke to Gene Honda outside the stadium and in his ridiculously awesome voice, the public address announcer told us that the last forecast he saw called for a 100 percent chance of rain at kickoff. For those of you who might not know, Gene is the PA guy for the White Sox, Blackhawks and DePaul basketball. He’s also the voice of the Big Ten basketball tournament and the Final Four. You’re in for a treat with him.
It was almost eerie driving to Memorial Stadium this morning. It looked like a rainy Monday morning, there were very few bodies tailgating or making their way toward the stadium for today’s game. Obviously, a lot of that is because of the weather. I have some friends who host a prominent tailgate every week and they altered their plans. Instead of setting up shop on Kirby near the baseball field, the Wilson gang rented out the upstairs at Joe’s Brewery and will shuttle to the game. That’s how you do it.
Klee took some photos of the scene outside. He’ll share those with you later either here or on Twitter. Follow him at @PKlee_IllinHQ for updates during the game. I’ll also be providing some updates at @marcusrjackson. We might even resurrect #TateTales today, if he provides some nuggets. Email us, too, if that’s more to your liking: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
Read Bob’s Q&A with Jon Davis while you get ready for the game here. Here are five things I think are worth watching today. David Drew, who covers the Broncos for MLive offers his take here.
I’ll be back in a few minutes to catch you back up to speed.