Upon Further Review: That was fun

Upon Further Review: That was fun

Illinois, an 8-point underdog, upset Western Kentucky on Saturday. Football beat writer Bob Asmussen breaks the game down further First impressions

— Illinois offensive coordinator Garrick McGee talked Friday about opening the season 3-0. Well, now he's got a shot.

The 8-point underdog Illini put themselves in position for a perfect nonconference season with a convincing win against Western Kentucky. And hotshot quarterback Mike White? This story has played in Champaign before. Many highly touted quarterbacks came to Memorial Stadium and fizzled.

Dave Raggone, anyone? Or Brock Osweiler? There were others.

The Western Kentucky team in C-U on Saturday is not nearly as good as one that won 11 games last season. This team missed the top players who graduated. And it really missed the coaching of Jeff Brohm, who is off to a great start at Purdue.

— Clearly, the Illini realized they were underdogs. It gave the coaches another log to throw on the motivation fire. 

"Playing a ballclub like this really gets you up a little bit," Illini coach Lovie Smith said. "Our guys stepped up to the plate."

— Julian Jones was a backup early in training camp, Then, starting linebacker Jake Hansen tore up his knee and Jones was the next man up. 

He came through with a momentum turning pick six late in the first half.

"You know how much emphasis we put on taking the ball away," Smith said. "That's what it's about. When you can score a defensive touchdown, most of my time in coaching, you have a great chance of winning. That was big."

— We can all agree that targeting is a necessary and appropriate call. Until it happens to your favorite team. 

Illinois linebacker Tre Watson got bounced from the rest of the game after getting hit with a targeting call late in the first half. Did it hurt Illinois? Of course. The team was without its defensive leader for the rest of an important game. And he is the best player on that side of the ball.

The good news is that the penalty happened in the first half. If it was called in the second half, he would have been forced to sit out the first half of next week's game, currently scheduled for his hometown Tampa, Fla.

Watson's reaction after getting thrown out was understandable. He is an emotional guy and he wanted to finish an important game.

— The Kiddie Corps lineup for the Illinois defense is a very positive sign ... for 2019.

For now, the four freshmen starters are going to have good days and bad. But Saturday was mostly good.

"We put guys out there we think we cn win football games with," Smith said. "Those players have earned the reps that they've gotten."
— Boy, Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford is young.

Just barely old enough to run for president. Credit Western Kentucky for taking a chance on a guy who had never been a head coach before.
Of course, the school has a great track record hiring head coaches. The last three are all in the Power Five now and doing well. That's Willie Taggart (Oregon), Bobby Petrino (Louisville) and Jeff Brohm (Purdue). The Cradle of Coaches isn't moving from Miami, Ohio, to Bowling Green, Ky., but it is worth a conversation.

— Think college football is all glory and glamour? Check out Western Kentucky's travel schedule.

The team bused to Champaign on Friday for Saturday's game. Then afterward, it jumped back on the buses for the five-hour trip back to Bowling Green, Ky. The team was scheduled to arrive at home at about 5 a.m., Sunday morning.

Thankfully for the Hilltoppers, the next two games are at home.

— Illinois' opening win against Ball State looks better after Saturday's results.

The Cardinals, who scored just 21 at Memorial Stadium, put up 51 in a 20-point win aginst UAB. Ball State is better than last year's 4-8 version and my guess is will be bowl-bound this season. In two weeks, the Cardinals play at Western Kentucky.

Second guessing

— Late in the first half, the Illini faced a fourth and short from Western Kentucky's side of the field.

Some of the crowd wanted Smith to go for it.

The coach never considered it, ordering a punt that eventually led to Jones' touchdown.

"To me that was an easy one," Smith said. "Going for it and missing it would have given them great field position."

— Why so many penalties for the Hilltoppers? Don't they practice with officials like the Illini do?

The team was flagged nine times for 85 yards in the first half. The lack of discipline showed with an early unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against center Dennis Edwards in the first half. Not the way to play football.
— Don't they recruit specialists in Bowling Green.

Punter Jake Collins shanked the ball like a 40-handicapper (in other words, me.)

Third degree

— Sideline interference penalties that extend opponent drives are not acceptable.

In the third quarter, the Illini got called for S.I. and the Hilltoppers had a brief reprieve.

What happened?

"There's an emphasis this year on coaches, players being back," Smith said. "We broke the rules and we were penalized for it. Simple as that."

— Illinois had a chance to put the game away in the second half, but missed multiple opportunities.

You can play conservatively against teams like Western Kentucky, but in the Big Ten, it will get you beat.
— Western Kentucky goes home with many more questions than answers.

The team struggled in its opener against Eastern Kentucky. The new offense might not suit White, who was clearly frustrated with Saturday's outcome.

The fourth estate

Announcer Dave Revsine has called hundreds of college basketball games. And he is the king of BTN's studio show.

But Saturday's game was his first time calling college football on TV. 

Ever.
"The prep is way harder," Revsine said. "I spent conservatively four times as much preparing for this game as for basketball. I would say I spent 40 hours preparing for this game."

This is not a permanent switch to football play-by-play for Revsine. He loves the studio work.

But he has wanted to try a football broadcast. Saturday worked out well.

"Every game is important for fans," Revsine said. "We've been talking about it for years."

Revsine hopes to do more games in the future. He has none currently scheduled this season.

Having J Leman as his analyst Saturday added to Revsine's comfort level.

"I was thrilled to see it was J," Revsine said.

Five burning questions

1. Is there going to be a game this Friday?

It depends. Illinois is planning to make the trip Thursday. But Hurricane Irma could change those plans. The Illini are in a wait-and-see mode.

2. What's up with the cool down markers?

The school just got fancy digital sticks. They are so much easier to see, for the players, coaches and fans. Plus, less of a chance of a fifth-down fiasco like in the Colorado-Missouri game back in the day.

A better question might be what took so long? Everything is digital now. You'd think they would haved had them at Illinois earlier, given all the technology advances at the school. Oh well, Better late than never.

3. How much does the loss of Nate Echard hurt the Illini?

The team was moving the ball when the tight end was in the game. He was forced out with a serious knee injury and Echard was missed. McGee wants to use tight ends. A lot.

4. Should there be a quarterback controversy

Not now. The most important numbers to Chayce Crouch and the Illini offense are 2-0 — the team's record.

Crouch threw for 107 yards and ran for another 44. And a touchdown. He is the only quarterback who has taken a snap this season and is locked in as the starter for the rest of the year.

5. Did all the hype give Mike Epstein a big head?

Not a bit. The freshman from Florida ran for 111 yards on 21 carries. If he keeps running like he did Saturday, he will be the starter for the rest of the season. And beyond.

The good part for Epstein is he has plenty of help. Senior Kendrick Foster and freshman Ra'Von Bonner are capable backups.