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Western Drops A Heart-breaker to Illinois

It hurts so much.

It hurts to watch a fumble recovery in opposing territory end in a missed field goal.

It hurts to watch a solid effort on D in the first half, turn into exhaustion because of mistakes on both sides of the ball.

It hurts to watch your QB lead your team on the field with a chance to tie/win the game, only to make 2 mistakes that cost so much time.

This loss hurts.

The scoreboard read 23-20 at the end of the game.  The game was that close it seemed like.  Western Michigan hung with the Illini, and even had the lead (13-10) at the half.  But in the end, mistakes killed the Broncos' chance to win their first game ever against a ranked opponent.

Alex Carder was 30-48 for 308 yards, 2 TDs, and a pick (RIGHT to the Illinois defender which led to a field goal).  He both kept Western in the game, and basically killed their chances.  Don't get me wrong, I really like Alex Carder as a QB.  Very Aaron Rodgers-esque.  But his awareness still needs some work in pressure situations.  You CANNOT throw it to the middle of the field with no timeouts and only 1 minute on the clock.  You CANNOT take a sack when you are already 15 yards out of the pocket and no one open and only 20 seconds left.  You CANNOT call your own run play when you read blitz and one-on-one coverage on all of your wide-outs.

Jordan White had ANOTHER huge game.  He is the next Greg Jennings.  He makes plays, and there is no doubt about it.  He might not enjoy the success on the NFL level Jennings does, but he is a playmaker.

Western could not run.  At all.  21 carries as a team.  35 net yards.  Longest run of 8 yards.   The Illinois line is pretty good though, so you do have to let it slide whenever you face a Big Ten team.

Defensively, its a tale of two halves.  The first half:  Western held Illinois in check pretty well.  A couple big plays, but in all, 10 points is good against this team.  They had a huge goal-line stand, and a fumble recovery (that, again, led to a missed field goal).  

The second half?  Illinois was possessed by the Galloping Ghost's ghost.  They ran all over the Broncos.  In the 2 combined halves, Illinois ran for 296 yards on 52 carries.  5.7 yards per carry.  What hurt the most though, were penalties.  Two big ones.  One, and offsides call on Paul Hazel after an incomplete pass kept the first drive alive, and it ended in a touchdown.  The 2nd was worse.  Nate Scheelhaase overthrew a receiver by a mile, and Mitch Zajak comes flying in and basically lays the receiver out in a hit that, in the NFL, would result in a suspension or a fine.  Again, a 3rd down stop, but a penalty keeps the drive alive.  The resulting field goal made it 20-13.

I just can't shake this feeling.  To be so close yet lose due to mistakes.  It's like last year's Central game all over again, only against a better team.  The Broncos will have their chance next week to beat a BCS team, when they travel to UCONN to face a struggling Huskies team.  It will be a game that I think is winnable, and will actually be expecting a win.  Until then, Bronco fans have to sit with the sour taste of a close loss in their mouths.