WIU football 3

Western Illinois head coach Jared Elliott is 5-8 now in his second year at the helm. 

Scott Holland covers Western Illinois for The McDonough County Voice and answered five questions from the Chronicle about the Leathernecks’ matchup with Montana State this week.

1. Western Illinois has struggled in its first two games and is now 0-2. What do the Leathernecks need to tweak to bounce back?

Being at home will be a big boost. The Leathernecks had two difficult trips, going to North Alabama by bus, then flying to Colorado State. People like to complain how tough it is to get to Macomb, but it's just as tough to get out. WIU has to do it six times a year.

2. Troy Andersen was problematic for the Leathernecks last season. What do you think the Leathernecks have to do better against him this time around?

Talking to WIU head coach Jared Elliott this week, the key is to recognize where he is and be aware of him every play. Anderson does so much on both sides of the ball and depending on the situation could be anywhere on the field.

On offense, he's probably not out there to be a decoy, so extra attention will be necessary. On defense, the Leathernecks have to commit to getting a big guy in front of him and staying in front of him.

3. WIU has a few weapons at running back. Do you see the ground game as a key in this matchup?

Vic Johnson and Max Norris were expected to be WIU's feature backs this season, but neither have played due to injuries.

Richmond transfer Deontez Thompson looked good in spots in Week 1, but missed last week's game due to injury. Leading rusher Kendon Walker went down with an injury in the third quarter at Colorado State so WIU is hurting at that spot.

I would expect Clint Ratkovich and Jared Drake, who usually are used as pass catching backs, to be in the backfield most of the day.

4. How has WIU dealt with the absence of a few key players from last year, including NFL-caliber defensive lineman Khalen Saunders?

WIU is really deep at the defensive line, so Western has been able to rely on numbers to absorb the loss of Saunders. Where Western is really hurting on defense is the back third.

WIU graduated a starting safety and two starting corners and another is hurt. Western has struggled against the pass. The Leathernecks brought in a lot of transfers in the defensive backfield and right now are looking for guys to emerge.

Offensively, the losses of quarterback Sean McGuire and running back Steve McShane have been huge. McGuire was a three-plus year starter and the program's all-time leading passer. McShane was WIU's big-play threat last season, leading the team in rushing yardage, receptions and kick return yardage.

5. In what ways do you think WIU can exploit Montana State's run-first offense?

I think the best thing for Western to do is try to limit the Bobcat run game, then identify MSU's big playmakers.

Obviously Andersen is the guy to watch, but Elliott was also concerned about the big-play capability at running back as well as the variety of looks Montana State will use in the running game, especially a wildcat-type look.

WIU has to win up front and try to make Montana State one dimensional. I'd look for Western to load the box and send the house as much as possible.

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.