WMU Football Stumbles in 24-7 Loss at Illinois
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Western Michigan's 24-7 loss at Illinois was not the way the Broncos looked to open the season but there were many positives to come out of Saturday's game played at Memorial Stadium in front of 43,441 fans.
Western Michigan's defense, outside of a missed assignment in the secondary on the game's opening score, played outstanding against its Big Ten offensive counterparts. Defensive coordinator Rich Nagy's defense held the Illini to 248 yards (115 rushing, 133 passing) of total offense. That is the fewest yards allowed since WMU allowed 241 to Nicholls State. The 'D' forced Illinois into seven three-and-out series, forcing them backward in total yards on the drive three times. Two of the three-and-out series came to the Illini because of a Bronco turnover.
In the second half alone, Western Michigan's defense, led by Johnnie Simon's career matching 18 tackles and Donald Celiscar's second career interception, forced four three-and-outs. Illinois had one drive that amassed more than six yards in the second half and that was its first, going 10 plays for 60 yards before Celiscar stepped up with what appeared to be a one-handed interception in the front corner of the end zone to keep Illinois off the board.
The Broncos showed a spark with their fourth possession of the second half, going 48 yards in seven plays for their lone score of the day. Needing just 32 seconds near the end of the third quarter, Alex Carder found tight end Matt Cutler for nine yards before handing it off to Tevin Drake for 15 yards up the middle.
Drake finished with a team high 29 yards on eight carries. Carder, who had 124 of his 239 yards passing in the third quarter then found Justin Collins for the junior's first catch as a Bronco down to the Illini's eight yard-line (25-yard completion). He then hit Jaime Wilson on a quick slant who just was able to get the ball over the goal line for Carder's 62nd career TD pass, and Wilson's first TD reception. The true freshman led all WMU receivers with eight grabs for 59 yards.
Unfortunately, that momentum was not enough to combat the errors made by the team in the opener. Three interceptions, one by Ashante Williams went the other way for a score put Illinois up 24-7 and sealed the game. WMU had issues with dropped passes and putting the ball on the ground (six fumbles, 1 lost) that stalled drives. Opportunities missed by WMU were capitalized on by Illinois.
The Illini's first score of the game, a 64-yard pass from Nathan Scheelhaase to running back Ryan Lankford, was a missed assignment in the defensive backfield by WMU. Illinois added on a 43-yard Nick Immekus field goal in the first quarter and a Scheelhaase four-yard scoring run to take a 17-0 lead into halftime. It was the first time WMU was held scoreless in the first half since Oct. 22, 2011 at Eastern Michigan.
Western Michigan opens its home season at the 21st Annual CommUniverCity Night on Sept. 8 at 7 p.m., against Eastern Illinois. The Broncos and Panthers have played each other only one other time in program history (1996). The game will air live on ESPN3 and you can listen on the Bronco Radio Network, beginning with the preview show one hour before kickoff.