Posted by Adam Jacobi
ILLINOIS WON: The No. 24 Illinois Fighting Illini improved to 4-0 on the season with a hard-fought 23-20 victory over upstart Western Michigan in Champaign. Illinois ran the ball with ease, racking up 296 yards on 52 carries in a devastating option attack. Western Michigan QB Alex Carder was valiant in defeat, throwing for 306 yards and two touchdowns on 30-48 passing.
WHY ILLINOIS WON: WMU simply had no answer for Illinois' ground game, which accounted for 180 of Illinois' 280 second-half yards. Nathan Scheelhaase only officially accounted for 40 of Illinois' rushing yards, but he was a virtuoso coordinating the attack and making the right reads and pitches. That Scheelhaase is only a sophomore is a scary proposition for opposing defensive coordinators.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON: This game didn't belong to the Illini until the clock hit 0:00. Illinois had attempted a 4th and 4 conversion from the WMU 33 with 1:12 left and came up a yard short, giving WMU one last chance to drive into field goal range. The Broncos fell far short in the rally, though, with three plays ending with the clock running.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON: Geting a close win early in the season is a great way to build momentum for the rest of the season, and Illinois is going to need it as it takes an unblemished record and a national ranking into Big Ten season. Also, Ron Zook's seat isn't nearly as hot as it was a month ago.
WHAT WESTERN MICHIGAN LOST: There aren't many conferences in more need of a win against a ranked opponent -- and all the respect that affords -- than the MAC, and Western Michigan looked every bit like Illinois' equal for the better part of 60 minutes on Saturday. It was not to be, of course, but this really could have been the crown jewel of the Broncos' season; instead, it's just another loss.
THAT WAS CRAZY: With six minutes remaining and two timeouts left, Western Michigan faced a 4th and 1 at its 34 yard line. WMU sent off a punt, despite having given up three long drives in the second half alone. Sure enough, Illinois put together another 10-play drive, and WMU didn't get the ball back until there was just a minute left, all its timeouts had been spent, and the ball was five yards further back than the 4th down situation that WMU punted out of. What exactly did WMU head coach Stu Riddle think was going to happen when he punted the ball (and, effectively, the game) away? Crazy, crazy, crazy.