Who's got the edge? Illinois vs. Western Illinois

Who's got the edge? Illinois vs. Western Illinois

Beat writer Scott Richey breaks down Illinois and Western Illinois:

OFFENSE

The offensive styles for the Illini and Leathernecks couldn't be more different. Illinois was able to show off offensive coordinator Rod Smith's run-based spread — at least in the second half — against Kent State. The main goal? Get the ball to the team's athletes in space and let them go to work. The Illini will be short some of those athletes in the passing game, but a productive stable of running backs could make up for those losses. Western Illinois runs a more traditional system with a two-back backfield, plenty of work for the team's tight ends and a pure pocket passer in three-year starting quarterback Sean McGuire.

Advantage: Illinois

DEFENSE

The fact McGuire has just 319 career rushing yards plays into Illinois' favor. Kent State's Woody Barrett re-emphasized the type of struggles the Illini defense can have against a mobile quarterback. McGuire in the pocket makes for a go-to target for Illinois' defensive ends that still seem a bit more interested in chasing sacks than stopping the run. That's the Illini's challenge against the Leathernecks after running back Steve McShane proved to be WIU's top offensive weapon in its Week 1 loss to Montana State. The Leathernecks' defense gave up just 252 yards to the Bobcats, but the bulk of that came on the ground — Illinois' bread and butter.

Advantage: Illinois

SPECIAL TEAMS

Neither team would like to see its punter on the field too often, but Illinois' Blake Hayes and Western Illinois' Adam Fellner could put on a show. Hayes averaged 53.4 yards on five punts against Kent State — good for third nationally so far — as the 6-foot-6 Aussie crushed a 69-yarder in Week 1. Fellner also punted five times, with a long of 58 buoying a 48.8 yards per punt average that also ranks him third nationally among FCS punters. Keeping Leathernecks kick returner Tony Tate in check will be key for Illinois, along with getting positive production in its own return game with true freshman Carlos Sandy likely the primary return man.

Advantage: Illinois

COACHING

Lovie Smith nearly got outdueled by a first-year coach last week in a solid debut for Kent State's Sean Lewis. Western Illinois' Jared Elliott is also in his first season in the top job after being promoted to replace Charlie Fisher after he decamped to the desert on Herm Edwards' Arizona State staff. Like Lewis, Elliott is a former offensive coordinator, and he might be itching to trot out his style against an Illinois defense that gave up 453 yards of total offense to the Golden Flashes. Experience, of course, counts on the sideline like it does on the field, and Illinois has an abundance in Smith and Co., both in the NFL and college.

Advantage: Illinois