CRAWFORD: Pregame glance -- WKU at Illinois - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD: Pregame glance -- WKU at Illinois

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WDRB) -- This script will sound a little familiar to Western Kentucky University football fans. Groundbreaking win in the season opener under a new coach, then a big road opportunity against a Power Five conference member on the road in Week 2.

Last season, the Hilltoppers went to Tennessee and self-destructed, committing five turnovers in six plays -- three on interceptions thrown by Brandon Doughty -- to fall behind big, and lost 52-20 after turning it over seven times.

At Illinois, a replay of that would be unlikely. The Hilltoppers have the advantage of another year of seasoning, Doughty is coming off a record-setting -- and interception-free -- performance in last week's season-opening win over Bowling Green, and Illinois has struggled to produce turnovers lately.

They didn't force any turnovers in a closer-than-expected 28-17 win over Youngstown State last week and forced only 11 all last season, including only three interceptions. The Hilltoppers fumbled three times in their 59-31 win over Bowling Green last week, but recovered all of them.

"That's, again, the Achilles heel that we have got to change," Illinois coach Tim Beckman told reporters this week. "We have got to take the football away."

After a 708-yard offensive debut, WKU coach Jeff Brohm said the element of surprise will be lost heading to Champaign, Ill., this week. He expects Illinois to try to play a physical Big Ten style of offense that controls possession.

"Without question it's key we don't want to be a one-game wonder," Brohm said. "We realize it's a long season. We told our team to take one game at a time whether we win or lose, that game is over and you have to move on the next one. This will definitely test us . . .  I think Illinois is a big, physical team and is going to like to run the football, try to control the clock, and take away what we do well. To be honest with you, I think we were able to execute well on offense this first game because of the element of surprise. I don't think Bowling Green knew exactly what we were going to do. Illinois does know what we are going to do so they are going to be very prepared for it. We're going to have to find a way to win on both sides of the ball so it's definitely a critical game, but it's going to be a difficult game."

Some things to remember heading into today's kickoff:

-- Kickoff is at noon Eastern. The game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

-- WKU is on a five-game winning streak, the sixth-longest active streak in the FBS. That's WKU's longest win streak since the 2011 season. It hasn't won six in a row since its Division I-AA national championship year of 2002.

-- Today's meeting is the first ever between WKU and Illinois. The Hilltoppers are 0-4 all-time against members of the Big Ten.

-- WKU is looking for its fifth straight win over a non-conference opponent. It's also looking to beat a "Power 5" conference team for a third straight season. It beat Kentucky in 2012 and '13. The Hilltoppers haven't opened 2-0 since 2005 and haven't won their road opener since 2000.

-- Brohm and secondary coach Mike Cassity both have spent time on Illinois' staff. Brohm spent the 2010 and '11 seasons as quarterbacks coach under Ron Zook while Cassity was defensive coordinator under Ron Turner from 2001 to 2003.

-- Brohm on Illinois QB Wes Lunt: "He is a very good quarterback. When I was at Illinois, we recruited him we lost out on him.  He went to Oklahoma State. He started as a true freshman which tells you he's a good football player and Oklahoma State is a good football team. Now he's at Illinois and I think he's a guy that is big and can see over the line, he's a very accurate passer, he can throw the ball up the field, he's got a lot of experience being the fact he played in the Big 12 at a high level. He brings them a lot of experience and really helps that offense become a better offense."

-- Brohm on Illinois RB Josh Ferguson: "Very fast. . . .  We recruited (him) when I was there. He is very talented. He's a guy that we are going to need to contain. I'm sure they're going try and give him the ball as much as they can but those are two key guys that we have try to eliminate or contain somewhat."

Eric Crawford and WDRB News photographer Matt English will be in Champaign, Ill., for WKU's game at Illinois today. Watch for more coverage and WDRB News at 10 for a full report tonight. Follow Eric Crawford on Twitter here.

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