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Western Kentucky vs Illinois: Preview, Start Time, How to Watch, Prediction

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The Tops can get their first win ever over a Big Ten opponent on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Miami (Ohio)
Quinton Baker (3) returns this week adding an extra dimension to the Tops’ offense
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Start Time: 7 PM CT

TV: Big Ten Network

Streaming: BTN2Go

Radio: Hilltopper IMG Network, Local Affiliates

Location: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Illinois

Betting: WKU are favored by 7.5, according to Oddshark

The Series: The Tops and Illini played each other for the first and only time back in 2014. Then head coach Tim Beckman and Illinois were victorious 42-34 against Jeff Brohm’s WKU team. The Tops led 27-21 at the end of the third quarter. But 21 points from the Illini in the fourth quarter, including a 77-yard pick six from Illinois’ Taylor Barton, secured them the win.


Outlook

The Western Kentucky offense didn’t have their usual “wow factor” in last week’s 31-17 win over Eastern Kentucky. Mike Sanford, however, hinted that he’s still got plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Expect the Hilltoppers to come out in different packages in formations this week, as well as every other week moving forward.

The Illinois defense demonstrated in week one against Ball State that they have some issues dealing with the passing game. The Cardinals put up 204 yards passing along with 171 yards rushing in that game. Theoretically, this means the Mike White that we know and love should be able to have a big day, especially since he has even more of his offensive weapons (Xavier Lane, Kyle Fourtenbary, Quinton Baker) returning from suspension. It will all be contingent, however, on how well the WKU offensive line is able to contain the pass rush. White was sacked 3 times against Eastern Kentucky.

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-Memphis vs Western Kentucky Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive side of the ball, WKU is also a team that needs to improve in defending the pass. In week one, they allowed EKU quarterback Tim Boyle to get comfortable resulting in him throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns. They can’t allow Illini QB Chayce Crouch to have the same luxury. They’ll especially be in trouble if Crouch is able to get in a rhythm with standout receiver Mikey Dudek, who is easing back into the system after some significant injuries. Illinois also has multiple running backs that can hurt WKU, particularly in the red zone with Kendrick Foster and Mike Epstein. The latter of those two had two scores on 54 rushing yards in week one.

NCAA Football: Illinois at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

For more on this matchup, you can read the Q&A I did with The Champaign Room. They also were nice enough to do a Q&A with me.

Prediction

I think WKU has all the potential in the world to win this game. If Mike White has time to get comfortable, it will be enough to secure the victory. WKU wins 31-24.