CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Tim Beckman will be on unfamiliar turf Saturday as he opens his career as Illinois coach. At least he knows the opponent, and it's one that might jangle the former defensive coordinator's nerves.
The Illini open against Western Michigan and Beckman knows all too well what's coming. His Toledo Rockets just managed to outgun the pass-happy Broncos last fall, winning 66-63.
"That game was really their breakout game, going empty (backfield) and not playing very many backs at all. Sometimes there wasn't even a back in the football game," Beckman said.
Longtime Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit said the game put his Broncos in the limelight.
"Everywhere I go out of this region, (people say), 'Hey, I saw you play,'" Cubit said.
Illinois seems likely to see another aerial assault by Broncos quarterback Alex Carder. He threw the ball, on average, 38 times per game last fall for the 7-6 Broncos. Fifty-plus passes wasn't unusual; the Broncos put the ball up 57 times against Purdue and 58 against Miami.
Against Illniois, Carder led WMU to a 13-10 halftime lead. He called the eventual 23-10 loss "gut wrenching."
That narrow Illini escape was part of a 6-0 start that proved to be an illusion. Illinois lost the next six before finishing 7-6, costing Ron Zook his job as coach.
Beckman, whose defensive background is sometimes overshadowed by his teams' emphasis on offense through the spread, said this week that Illinois' focus will be on stopping Carder and the high-tempo Broncos offense.
"They've got a quarterback in Alex Carder who, in my opinion, can play anywhere," Beckman said, adding that he plans to substitute liberally to keep his defense — likely the strength of the Illini — from tiring as it chases Carder and tries to cover a pack of receivers accustomed to running off 70 or more plays.
A handful of freshman defensive players will have to be ready to play. "They've got to — they have to play," Beckman said.