The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will travel to Champaign, Illinois to take on the Fighting Illini on Saturday (12:00pm ET, TV: BTN) in a game that both teams expect to win. The Hilltoppers are coming off a surprising victory over reigning MAC-champion Bowling Green, in a game where Brandon Doughty and the Topper offense accounted for over 700 yards. The Fighting Illini defeated FCS opponent Youngstown State in week one in a hard fought game that took four quarters to win.
The Fighting Illini are led by head coach Tim Beckman, who has gone 6-18 in his coaching tenure at Illinois. He will rely on sophomore quarterback Wes Lunt to lead his offense, who impressed in his season debut with 285 yards and four touchdowns. On defense, the Fighting Illini will rely on players like linebacker Mason Monheim, who accounted for fourteen total tackles against Youngstown State. Monheim and the Illini defense will have their hands full with Western Kentucky, a hot team with an experienced quarterback in senior Brandon Doughty.
Keys to the Game
Illinois only had possession of the pigskin for about twenty minutes in their season opener, and they will have to improve upon that to keep Jeff Brohm's Hilltopper offense off the field. Time of possession is something both coaches have stressed in this week's preparations, and Saturday's game may very well come down to it. Western Kentucky shouldn't have too many issues scoring points with its explosive offense that will continue to lean on an impressive offensive line led by senior Cameron Clemmons.
If there's one concern for Western Kentucky this week, it's defense. The Hilltoppers, while looking decent for most of the night, gave up 31 points to the Bowling Green Falcons. It's crucial that the Hilltoppers not rely on their offense to put up a huge amount of points every week. On the bright side, the Western Kentucky defense is young, and will only improve through the season. Illinois will be testing the WKU secondary often and early on Saturday, which is why defensive coordinator Nick Holt will need veterans like Cam Thomas and Gavin Rocker to set the tone for the defense and establish momentum.
The Hilltoppers are unquestionably the team with the more momentum coming into Saturday's clash with Illinois, but Jeff Brohm knows a repeat of last season's second week tumble against Tennessee is not acceptable. Brandon Doughty and his offense's composure should be much improved from last season, and the Hilltoppers won't have to worry about facing a monstrous Neyland Stadium crowd (Illinois attendance last week: 35,000).
If Western Kentucky's defense can make Illinois work to score points, which should be attainable, Western Kentucky could win this game by double digits.