Breaking down Western Illinois, NIU's pesky little brother

Will the 'Necks be able to bounce back this year after losing stud LB Jason Williams to the NFL?

Still waters run deep

It's an intrastate rivalry that nobody really talks about, because it happens so sporadically.

Don't look now, but Northern Illinois hasn't beaten the Leathernecks in 20 years.  Of course we've just played 3 times all during the Novak era and went 0-3 in those games.  I'm sure Joe Novak is on his boat right now in North Carolina anticipating this game like nobody else.  He hates Western!

Good thing our current coach knows a thing or two about playing WIU.

Jerry Kill is 6-1 against the 'Necks in his career, only losing in his first year.  Ever since then, it was a tough matchup for Kill and his Salukis.  Look at some of these scores:

2002: 54-52

2003: 37-32

2004: 66-13 (ok, don't look at that one)

2005: 34-24

2006: 31-24

2007: 10-9

That's a very close series, but Coach Kill always seems to eek out a win.  Hopefully Kill can make a dominant statement with the D-I talent that he has in his 2nd year as a coach at this level.

Deja Vu

Wisconsin...now Western Illinois.  This all seems so familiar to me.  Oh yeah the exact same two non-conference games were scheduled back in 2002!  I keep going back to that year, and why not?  We did go 8-4.

We did have current Atlanta Falcon RB Michael Turner at the time and against Western Illinois he rushed the ball 29 times for 282 yds and 3 TDs!  At the time it was 4th best ever performance by a Huskie and 8th best ever in the MAC.  He won MAC player of the week and...wait we lost the game???

How is this possible?

Well, it's a little hard to tell because there was so little coverage.  All you have is this USA Today box score of the game.  Western had a boatload of passing yds (382-74), kick return yardage (118-36) and time of possession (35:06-24:54).  QB Josh Haldi was un-Haldi like completing only 6-17 passes as he was harassed and sacked 5 times.  Update: I found this from the WIU game notes from this week:

The Last Time Western faced Northern...

It was game No. 3 of the 2002 season for the Leathernecks, Reggie Gray’s five-yard reverse with 1:10 remaining gave Western Illinois its third straight win over I-A Northern Illinois, 29-26. Brian Ceaser forced a fumble at the NIU-35 with under a minute left and Victor Campbell recovered for the Leathernecks to give Western the 3-0 start to the season. Russ Michna threw for a career-high 382 yards, including 300 in the first half, and Stacy Coleman set a Huskie Stadium record with 215 yards receiving (151 in the first half), which was later broken by Northern’s P.J. Fleck in 2003 with 234 yards.

It was probably a combination of being upset about the ref's calls in the week before against UW + the fact that WIU's super bowl was against us that year.  FCS teams usually get one big shot at an FBS (D-I) team each year and get completely amped for it.  We didn't lose a game after that one in '02 until...well I'm not even going to get in to that right now.

How they fare against the big boys

In terms of an FCS national powerhouse, WIU is past their glory days.  Since making the I-AA quarterfinals from 2002-03, the Leathernecks have been hovering around .500 even though in that division you only play 11 games.

Last year, Western gave the Arkansas Razorbacks a scare, losing 24-28 to start the season off.  Before then, they've played a rash of BCS opponents where they have been overmatched.  Even against MAC opponent Toledo they lost 14-62.  They haven't had a win against a D-I opponent since they beat EMU way back in 2003.  And then you know what happened the year before that.

They're a good, but not great team in the Missouri Valley Conference.  They're unlucky because they have to face the likes of Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois every year.  Not a very easy thing to do.  If you weren't paying attention, both teams were within a field goal of upsetting both Iowa and Marshall respectively.  While those teams place in the Top-25 of the FCS, Western is on the outside looking in.

Currently WIU ranks 36th in AGS poll, 35th in media poll & 47th in the coaches poll.

The 'Necks on O

Western naturally has a balanced offense, but decided to light up SHSU last week with some astronomical performances all-around that Clear Visor already talked about.  Most likely because they lost their starting running back who had been leading the team in rushing ever since 2006.

RB Dre Gibbs, 5'10" 220 Sr - Rushed the ball LY 78 times for 580 yds and 5 TDs (7.3 ypc!).  Was backup for the departed Herb Donaldson who rolled off 1,831 yds and 21 yds LY.  He just got cut recently by the New Orleans Saints (that sound familiar?)

LT Mike Lamphear, 6'4" 275 Jr - The lone returning starter on their O-Line.  Their starting O-Line averages 6'4" 285, 40 POUNDS LESS than Wisconsin's 6'6" 324 average.

The 'Necks on D

Their HUGE loss on this side is LB Jason Williams who was a beast last year and got picked by the 3rd round of the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys.

DE Victor Visoky, 6'4" 255 Jr - 39 tackles & 6 TFL LY

NG Abe Koroma, 6'3" 315 Jr - Recent transfer from Penn State.  3-star recruit according to Rivals.  Played in 10 games LY before getting stuck in JoePa's doghouse.

LN Kyle Glazier, 6'1" 220 Jr - Led the team with 92 tackles LY.  Wondering what LN stands for?  it's THE LEATHERNECK POSITION.  He is the leader of the defense and is kind of like a quasi-MLB/SS combo.  But then they also have a rover position.  Here's what Kill had to say about this situation:

"Defensively, they're unique. They may play with three down linemen, they may have four or five standing up, they move all over the place. They'll be the most unique defense we'll see. To be honest, at Southern, we struggled with them. We were able to win some games, but we struggled with what they do. I'm glad we have played them. That helps us a little bit.

CB Patrick Stoudamire, 5'11" 200 Sr - Preseason All-MVC, had 4 PBUs and a FF last week.  He's also been All-MVC the past 2 years and an All-American in 2007.

SS Tim Franken, 6'0" 195 So - 4 INTs LY

Conclusion

Western Illinois returns only 10 starters (5 on each side) off a pretty mediocre year last year.  What big production they did have at RB and LB are gone off to the NFL.  Now they have changed their offensive philosophy around apparently to a more pass-oriented attack.  It doesn't seem to me like they have found an identity yet for this year.  Add in the fact that their offensive and defensive lines aren't very experienced and you have yourself a pretty bland FCS team.

Unlike Wisconsin, there aren't any physical freaks this week on either side of the ball against this opposition.  WIU will try and make it close through the air, but the overall talent level on the Huskies will be just too much for them to handle.  We are their bowl game, but we have a lot of motivation to do well on our own.

WIU 10, NIU 33

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