CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Western Michigan came to Illinois Saturday as three-point favorites to pick up its second win in three weeks over a Big Ten team.
Maybe that line should have been a little bigger.
The Broncos (3-0) knocked off Illinois 34-10, two weeks after beating Northwestern on the road, 22-21.
Western Michigan looked the part of a Big Ten team for much of the game Saturday, pushing the Illini (1-2) around the field. The Broncos held Illinois to 3 yards rushing while they piled up 287 yards on 54 carries.
Sophomore running back Jamauri Bogan led Western Michigan with 189 yards on 24 carries, including a pair of long touchdowns.
Bogan now has 425 yards — 6.8 a carry — and four touchdowns. He praised an offensive line that dominated the Illini defensive line, considered the strength of the Illinois team.
“Line came to play,” he said. “It’s always the guys around me that allow things to happen when we play good football games.”
Broncos coach P.J. Fleck celebrated the win with fans who made the trip and said his team was never overwhelmed by the idea of facing another Big Ten team.
“They never flinched; they weren’t going to be intimidated,” he said, while trying to play down the significance of beating Illinois on the road. “It’s no bigger or less than any other win.”
Western Michigan opened up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and finished the afternoon with 437 yards of offense.
While Western Michigan shoved Illinois down the field, the Illini could barely sustain a drive. Unable to run, their only touchdown came on a trick play, a reverse flea flicker that ended with quarterback Wes Lunt hitting tight end Ainslee Johnson deep down the right sideline to cut the Western Michigan lead to 21-7 midway through the second quarter.
Talking about a fourth-and-1 stop by the Broncos in the first half, Illinois coach Lovie Smith summed up the Illini’s afternoon.
“They beat us up front,” he said. “We knew it was going to be about our line. They know we’re running, and of course we are running. Now, who’s a better man?”
The two wins over Big Ten teams in a season is a first for Western Michigan, and just the fourth time a Mid-American Conference team has two wins over Big Ten opposition in one season.
WESTERN MICHIGAN: The Broncos’ win at Northwestern was a squeaker, requiring a late touchdown and some defensive heroics. The win at Illinois was domination. Western Michigan ran the ball right at Illinois and the Illini couldn’t do much about it.
ILLINOIS: That feel-good period that followed Lovie Smith’s hiring is over and the reality that he has taken over a mistake-prone team short on talent has set it in. Smith said from the beginning he wants to run the ball, but lead back Ke’Shawn Vaughn had just 22 yards on eight carries Saturday. And while Lunt had 312 yards passing, he lacks a true go-to receiver. Smith also questioned his quarterback’s decision-making, particularly opting for short receivers in late-game, long-yardage situations.
“There’s probably four or five big plays we probably left out there that could have changed the game,” Lunt agreed. “I think I just need to do a better job when we’re down by that many points of forcing it down the field.”
KEEP THE BALL
Playing against an Illinois team that stresses the need to create turnovers, Western Michigan did not turn the ball over Saturday. That gives the Broncos a turnover-free start through their first three games. Opening up that three-touchdown lead helped. The Broncos stuck to the run much of the rest of the way. Quarterback Zach Terrell was just 9 of 13 for 150 yards.
If any one play could sum up the day for the Illini, their third-and-2 at the Bronco 3 early in the third quarter might be it. Lunt rolled left, had Justin Hardee open in the end zone with Reggie Corbin open in front of him at the 1. But with the ball headed toward Hardee, Corbin got his hands on it, and dropped it at the goal line. Illinois settled for a field goal, and remained two touchdowns behind at 24-10.
WESTERN MICHIGAN: The Broncos are at home Saturday, against Georgia Southern, before they start MAC play at Central Michigan, which has its own win at a Power 5 school (Sept. 10 over Oklahoma State).
ILLINOIS: Illinois gets a week off before heading to Nebraska to open the Big Ten season on Oct. 1. The Cornhuskers provided the 2015 highlight for the Illini, who came from behind to win their meeting in Champaign, 14-13.
Follow David Mercer on Twitter: @davidmercerAP
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