Charboneau: Illini show character in early wins

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Opening with victories over Kent State and Western Illinois aren't something most teams will thump their chest over.

But considering what Illinois has gone through the past couple weeks — not to mention how it had to rally to win such games a season ago — the Fighting Illini won't make any apologies.

It was a week before the season began coach Tim Beckman was fired, leaving offensive coordinator and former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit in charge.

And instead of wallowing in the mess that appeared to be enveloping the program, Cubit has the offense humming, and more impressively, has a defense that was one of the worst in the Big Ten last season playing at the top of its game.

"It's a great time," Cubit said. "Any time you win 44-0 you're excited about it. We've given up three points in two weeks. I don't care who you're playing, we scored 96 points in two weeks and we've still got a lot of room for improvement. When you have four turnovers and still win 44-0 I think there were a lot of good things."

The offense is doing what it did often last season by putting up plenty of points. But the defense was outstanding again.

Western Illinois managed one first down in the first half (18 for Illinois) and finished with five (27 for Illinois). And, Western Illinois reached midfield in the game once.

But that doesn't mean the Illini are about to start stuffing opponents on a regular basis.

"We're not the '85 Bears, but our guys are working hard and playing with confidence," co-defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "We haven't accomplished anything yet. We have our work cut out for us next week in a challenging environment."

That challenge goes up a notch next week when Illinois travels to North Carolina.

Odious outings

As good as the Big Ten was feeling about some early victories — Northwestern's over Stanford and Michigan State's over Oregon — there were a couple stinkers in Week 2.

None were any uglier than Rutgers' loss to Washington State — at home. Washington State is the same team that lost at home last week to Portland State despite being favored by more than 20 points.

It didn't stop the Cougars from walking out of Piscataway with a three-point victory.

"We have a lot of football left to play," said coach Kyle Flood, who has been dealing with multiple off-field issues. "We have to do it better. We have to do it with more precision. We have to do it with more details."

Things were not a whole lot better for Maryland, which gave up 28 fourth-quarter points in a home loss to Bowling Green. The Terrapins turned the ball over four times and allowed quarterback Matt Johnson to throw for 491 yards and six touchdowns, both career highs.

"We'll meet and we'll come up with what we want to do next week and how we want to proceed," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "But we're leaving too many plays on the field, so we'll address those things and see where we want to go."

Victory amid grief

Impressive showing by Iowa as it rallied to beat rival Iowa State.

Quarterback C.J. Beathard threw two touchdown passes to lift the Hawkeyes to their second straight victory, but it was the end of a difficult week around the Iowa campus.

The Hawkeyes were mourning the deaths, four days apart, of former football standout Tyler Sash and former basketball star Roy Marble.

"(The) victory is a rewarding end to a very difficult and challenging week for everybody," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "On top of that, an important chapter for our football team. I told the football team last night that we were going to have to earn this."