Champaign, IL (Sports Network) - Tim Beckman picked up his first win as head coach of Illinois as the Fighting Illini defeated the Western Michigan Broncos, 24-7, at Memorial Stadium.
Illinois (1-0) quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse threw for 126 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-18 before leaving the game with an apparent left ankle injury in the third quarter. Scheelhasse is the most important player on the Illini roster, also rushed for 21 yards and a score.
Jon Davis carried the ball six times for a game-high 54 yards for Illinois, which won the season opener for the second consecutive year after defeats at the hands of the Missouri Tigers in each of the previous four openers.
The nation's returning leader in total offense (345.3 ypg), Alex Carder threw for 239 yards and a touchdown on 26-of-43 for the Broncos (0-1). He was also intercepted three times.
The Illini struck first as Scheelhasse connected with wide receiver Ryan Lankford on a 64-yard touchdown pass on just his second attempt of the game. Facing pressure, Scheelhasse calmly hit his receiver in stride 40 yards down the field and Lankford did the rest.
Illinois extended their lead to 10-0 at the 5:51 mark of the first quarter with a 43-yard field goal by Nick Immekus, who missed from 45 earlier in the game on his first career field goal attempt.
The only points of the second quarter came when Scheelhasse scored from four yards out on a designed quarterback draw. Illinois took a commanding 17-0 lead into the break.
The Illini defense was dominant in the first half, holding the Broncos to minus-seven yards on the ground and just 85 yards from scrimmage. Western Michigan ran just three plays in Illinois territory in the half.
Led by Johnnie Simon, who recorded a game-high 18 tackles, the Broncos defense came alive in the third quarter, limiting Illinois to just 53 yards of total offense. With Scheelhasse in the locker room, backup Reilly O'Toole failed to pick up a first down on either of his two third-quarter possessions.
With just 32 seconds remaining in the third, the Broncos finally got on the scoreboard when Carder connected with Jaime Wilson from eight yards out. Wilson was wrapped up at the goal line by multiple Illini defenders and fumbled the football, but an official review determined Wilson crossed the plane prior to fumbling. After 45 minutes of football, Illinois led 17-7.
The hosts added to the lead with 9:06 left in the fourth quarter when Carder was picked off for the third time. Ashante Williams jumped a curl route on third down and went 60 yards untouched to the end zone to put the game out of reach.
Carder and reserve quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen racked up some late yards through the air, but Illinois shut down the Broncos running game all afternoon. WMU was held to minus-six yards rushing, which is a major concern for a team who has struggled running the ball in recent years.
Illinois improved to 4-1 all-time against Western Michigan, which hasn't won a season opener against an FBS opponent since 1998.
09/01 16:51:27 ET
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