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Hansen

Illinois linebacker Jake Hansen (35) recorded 15 tackles and six tackles for a loss last week against Kent State. Hansen was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week and leads the defense against Western Illinois on Saturday.

CHAMPAIGN — Years ago, Western Illinois' offense was the norm.

The Leathernecks turn back the clock, huddling between plays and using two running backs in the offense.

Western's offense is unique by today's standards of no-huddle, high-octane attacks, but it isn't ineffective.

In last week's loss to Montana State, the Leathernecks scored 23 points and totaled up 317 yards.

But after the Illinois defense has gone against offensive coordinator Rod Smith's offense in practice and got a dose of Kent State and its breakneck offense last week, Western will present a change of pace.

"We haven't gone against an offense like this for a long period of time," Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. "There was a time when most offenses were traditional, and when you got ready for a spread offense, there's a lot of things you have to cover, and that's where we are this week.

"Western Illinois is a good football team, and they played well this past week. For us, it's a state school that we're playing, and we're the flagship university of this state, so we understand how big this game is."

Last week, Kent State ran 84 offensive plays in the loss to Illinois and Western totaled 71 offensive plays in its loss. Western quarterback Sean McGuire threw for 164 yards and two touchdowns and running back Steve McShane rushed for 79 yards and a score while hauling in six catches for 40 yards and two touchdowns.

The Leathernecks don't move as fast as Kent State or Illinois, but the Illini aren't oblivious to the fact that any team can ramp up the tempo on a whim.

“They still have the ability to go fast — every team does — we still have to take that same approach, but them allowing us to kind of catch our breath is a lot better than we got this past Saturday," redshirt junior defensive back Cameron Watkins said.

Smith did not have an update for the five suspended players, which include safety Bennett Williams and cornerback Nate Hobbs, on Monday afternoon.

Cornerback Tony Adams also didn't play last week because of an injury.

Defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson's secondary included three true freshmen starters — Jartavius Martin, Delano Ware and Sydney Brown — on Saturday. In total, nine true freshmen played for Illinois.

Martin was the third Illinois cornerback to start a season opener since 1980, joining Adams last year and Vonte Davis in 2006, and was the only true freshman in the nation to start and also have an interception last week.

Offensively, the Illini will try to build on last week's second half that included four straight scoring possessions, and put the dismal start in the past.

Though fifth-year graduate transfer AJ Bush Jr. didn't find the end zone against Kent State, he orchestrated the offense, throwing for 190 yards and running for 139 more yards.

But the rushing attack wasn't a surprise to Bush.

"I know the way I run, it can add up if coach lets me work with the run game," Bush said. "I know that I’m skillful enough to accumulate 100 yard rushing."

This is the third meeting between Western Illinois and Illinois, and the Illini haven't given up a point to the Leathernecks.

Last week the Illini announced future football schedules that includes games against Illinois State University and Eastern Illinois University.

“I like local teams playing," Smith said. "Whenever you get a chance to play, not much travel involved, it’s a good thing for everybody involved. We see it as a good thing for Illinois fans, the state of Illinois."

NOTES: University of Illinois students will receive free tickets to the game. ... There will be a reunion of the 1953 team for the 65th anniversary of the Big Ten Championship team.

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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