Sunday, October 28, 2007
It Really IS a Brand New Ballgame in Champaign
Yes, for the first time since 2001, our football team has a chance to play after the traditional Northwestern "rivalry" game. And we still have 3 games to play in the season. The Homecoming game against Ball State wasn't always pretty, but they got the job done.
This means that, after just a couple years, the Zook's Illini have finally backed up their talk with wins. And, another new thing: the future continues to look bright, with quality recruits excited about coming to Illinois. Football really IS a new game in Champaign.
Labels: Illini football
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Flag on the Play
The game was ours to win or lose, but until that winning instinct is fully engrained in our program, the mistakes will get us. The occasional personal foul happens in the course of a game or a season, but to give up more than 100 yards in penalties with so many 15-yard automatic first downs? Ouch. That's tough to recover from, especially for a young team.
But that's past. Let's look forward. Ball State played Nebraska really tough, but that looks less impressive now than it did then. Although this is a game the Illini should win, we can't take anything for granted. Play hard, get a win, and become bowl eligible...that's a good gameplan for this weekend.
Labels: Illini football
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Another mistake...seriously...and another
Obviously the penalties and silly mistakes killed us. We gave them the game.
I can't help but wonder if it's because we're such a young team and our guys were riding on so much adrenaline. Still, it's no excuse for most of the mistakes...especially Mitchell. Can we just go ahead and give the opposing team a personal foul penalty on him to start the game and get it out of the way? Invariably he either gets too hyped up or loses his cool or both and shoves someone after the play is over or comes flying in out of no where for a late hit. Drives me nuts. The refs have him pegged.
We don't rough the punter (which even though I understand the rule I see no way you can avoid touching the guy when you're coming in for a block) and drop that punt return and we win that game. Frustrating!
In addition, I do not see the reason why Juice was taken out. He was completing passes and seemed to be in a good rhythm.
In any case, there is still a lot to look forward to as this team matures. The stadium sounded loud on TV. Musburger and Herbstreit called a great game and gave Illinois a lot of props.
Finally, the interview with Jeff Jordan was GOLD.
I just heard their AD say they are going to win a national championship in basketball, and they are going to do it the right way, with the right people. Rick, the IU legacy combined with the past history and current actions of your coach make it hard for me to believe the second two-thirds of that statement. You may win it all, but there will be questions about "how" in the minds of those outside Hoosierland. After all, your program firmly sits on the foundation Bobby laid...
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Do You Remember?
How big would a win be? Do you remember the last time Illinois beat Michigan at home? Before any member of the roster was born. 1983 was a few years ago. In fact, most players have no memory of the game the Illini should have won against Michigan in 2000. They were in grade school.
But while I have few memories of the 1983 season, I do remember the game the refs stole in 2000. (And yes, I believe I can say that. After all, the Big Ten offered an apology the next day.) And although it won't be easy, I think this team has a chance to ease the pain of those memories.
The 2007 Michigan team is tough to figure. After becoming the laughingstock of the college football world at the beginning of the season, beating Notre Dame set them on track to return to the top 25. They've had a variety of injuries to their stars, but the Illini will face a healthy team that is recovering nicely from the App St. and Oregon debacles.
The Illini just experienced the bitter taste of defeat after two great wins. The home field advantage clearly boosts this young team. Saturday's game should be a really good one.
Labels: Illini football
Saturday, October 13, 2007
- Pass defense. I've said this before, and although there were still plenty of immediate hits on receivers, Christensen had too many completions, often for 3rd down conversions. Like Donovan of Wisconsin, we are allowing QBs way too much time to find an open man.
- Punting. It's nerve-wracking. Let's make this a primary focus of the class of 2008, ok Ron?
- The defense that allowed Indiana to move easily down the field but often kept the Hoosiers out of the end zone showed up again today. Iowa moved easily, and their lack of faith in the kicking game helped the Illini significantly. Field goals instead of going for it on 4th down would have made the game look quite different.
- Killer instinct. That's what seemed to be lacking when the offense failed to score a touchdown with 1st-and-goal inside the 5. And, when the defense allowed a 22-yard pass completion on 3rd-and-18. But this takes time to develop, and these Illini are still learning how to win.
- Turnovers. We've improved quite a bit, but although we only turned the ball over twice, both were costly. Juice fumbled in the middle of what looked like a long, promising drive, and McGee's interception was a heartbreaker (and a game-ender).
However, this team is miles ahead of where I expected them to be at the beginning of the season. I hate that of all teams, we lost to Iowa, but although this loss was disappointing, there are still positives:
- Benn is amazing. He didn't get the ball as much as I would have liked to see, but he changes games. The first man does not bring him down, and he doesn't give up. Note the attitude this kid takes on the field. It's not much of a stretch to see how he could be sold on being the catalyst to turn an entire program around.
- Despite the mistakes and penalties, the Illini were very much in the game with under 2 minutes left and the ball. And I believed they had a chance to win. That would not have been the case, even last year when our losses were competitive.
- Field goal kicking. Does anyone remember Reda's last trip to Iowa City? I do. He's from Rock Island, Ill., just an hour from Iowa City, and in front of a large group of family and friends, he had a miserable game. Today, he confidently hit a 46-yarder. And I expect 3 points when he's on the field, which wasn't the case a couple years ago.
At the beginning of the season, I figured Illinois would be about 3-4, at this point and would have to relearn how to win as they headed back to Champaign for Michigan and Ball State before having a legitimate shot at winning a road game in Minneapolis. Instead, we are 5-2, and although 6-1 would be wonderful, we should be bowl eligible by the end of the month. I was afraid that we would need to beat Northwestern to get to 6 wins. I hoped we would get one surprise win at home. We got two -- against ranked opponents (although I still maintain that this year's rankings are meaningless). Of course I want more, but we've come a long way, and these boys deserve a lot of credit for what they've accomplished.
Next week will be a tough game, as Michigan seems to have recovered from it's rough start and is undefeated in the Big Ten. But it should be exciting. We have a good, improving team. Michigan has proven to be vulnerable. It's a night game in Champaign. As long as the refs that did the 2000 game are far, far away, Illinois has a good chance at winning that one.
Labels: Illini football
Friday, October 12, 2007
Chris Fowler confirms: GameDay edging closer to Champaign
But know this: Saturday's visit is still a test for Illinois. Yes, it is now officially possible for Illinois to be playing a "trap" game, after the two emotional wins. That's because Michigan visits next week. Not that the players should let something like this affect them, but the Illini are a win away from probably playing host to "GameDay" for the first time. GameDay with Champaign wishes and caviar dreams? Robin Leach in the house? Who knows?
BTW, be sure to check out the "two flights and a drive" segment at the end of his article. Interesting stuff. I'm still waiting for the Worldwide Leader to pluck Illinitalk's own Alama Mater as sideline reporter. Corso, if you're reading this, she'd be great.
Joseph Bertrand to Illinois
This is very good news. O'Brien points out that the Richardson, Paul, Bertrand haul comes about a year after the guy Deron Williams affectionately referred to as "I don't know who that is" threw Weber under the bus by stringing him along. All you have to do is take a look at Illinois' '07 and '08 recruiting classes to see the impact that had.
Now, is the well still poisoned? Has Weber exorcised the demons?
Only time will tell but this is a very good start. Usually all it takes is one player to get the ball rolling and now we have three. Sorta reminds me of the roll Thad Matta got on about a year or two ago when guys started committing to him in droves.
Now I'm not saying Weber is Matta, or even Ron Zook for that matter, but if he can consistently recruit like this and turn it into a pattern, we should be in very good shape. BTW, this should also solidify Jereme Richmond in the '10 class.
Welcome to Guard U. fellas.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul commit
I'm not ready to say our recruiting troubles are turned around and Weber is now Zook but it is a positive step. You never know what goes on with these recruiting battles but I like to think the Jerrance Howard hire played a big part in today's victories.
Before anyone gets too euphoric, please remember we've been here before and the next step is to hold onto these guys until they sign their LOI and turn this into a pattern.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
GameDay to Champaign?
ESPN already has contacted Illinois about the possibility of bringing its popular GameDay show to Champaign. And while nothing is certain, a visit from hosts Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard would bring a rock-show atmosphere to Memorial Stadium.
Kent Brown, Illinois’ assistant athletic director for media relations, said the GameDay group would likely set up its stage inside Memorial Stadium for its morning show while Illinois figured out a way to inspire 10,000 or so students and fans to pack in around the stage.
The stage would be dismantled and taken out of the stadium in time for the evening’s activities to begin prior to the 7 p.m. kickoff.
A tale of two press conferences
Here is a transcript of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz's presser yesterday.
Now tell me who had an easier time answering questions. Let's hope after Saturday the questions are even harder for Ferentz to answer. Like I said before: I want Kinnick Stadium empty by the start of the fourth quarter, Illini fans being the exception.
Monday, October 08, 2007
- A (Heisman-caliber?) running game. Rashard Mendenhall did it all: rushing, receiving, options, 3 TDs, and he was impressive. And so was the O-line that opened holes and blocked the edge so he could get around. Oh, and Mendenhall earned his second ESPN College Game Day helmet sticker. Beautiful.
- Benn. He doesn't go down when the first guy hits him (unless he wants to -- because of pain). Sometimes he doesn't go when the second, third or fourth guys do, either. After one reception, he eluded several tackles for a couple more yards before finally dancing out of bounds. Another long reception showed pure determination, avoiding a potential interception. Beautiful.
- QB rushing. Juice handed off and threw, and then, when least expected by the Badger defense, he took off for key rushing gains. And when he hyper-extended his knee, Eddie McGee followed Juice's footsteps and ran for a TD. Beautiful.
- Rock-solid, reliable Jason Reda. Beautiful.
- Rush defense. J Leman and company kept P.J. Hill from gaining momentum until well into the second half. Hill struggled to get more than 4 yards a carry during the first half, and was often wrapped up at the line of scrimmage. Beautiful.
- I will say that pass defense could improve, which is true, but I can't forget several hard hits to would-be receivers that caused incomplete passes, two interceptions (and one almost-interception that freakishly ended up landing on Beckum's stomach), Swann leaving the game and times when Donovan was hit as he threw. Beautiful.
- Freshman Martez Wilson running down Donovan in the open field for a loss of yards. Beautiful.
- The surprising stat of the day. Since trailing big and losing to (now #11) Missouri in the final seconds of our first game, Illinois has trailed opponents by a total of 13 seconds. That's how long it takes Benn to run 90 yards through the heart of the Penn State kick coverage unit. Beautiful.
We have come a long way under Zook. There are many areas for improvement (punting, pass completions, turnovers -- we were lucky this week that potential fumbles slipped out of bounds), but looking at the Big Ten and our schedule, we are in good shape. Provided Zook's boys stay healthy and hungry for success, they can easily blow away my expectations for a .500 season. In fact, I'm already thinking about potential destinations for a post-Christmas vacation...
Labels: Illini football
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Sour grapes and accusations from Wisconsin player
Wisconsin all-conference cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu, perhaps practicing for a future career as a TV analyst, was blunter, feeding those skeptics who questioned Illinois' recruiting surge last winter.
"I don't know what the boosters are paying their players," he said. "They've done a better job recruiting. They have plenty of athletes. I've been around them for four years, and they are leaps and bounds from where I saw them."
When I told him Illinois fans were going to just love his "boosters" comment, Ikegwuonu giggled. Then a few Wisconsin writers suggested he say he was joking.
"I don't know," he replied, laughing all the way. "That was a joke. That was definitely a joke. Please don't write that or coach Bielema's gonna have me."
Saturday, October 06, 2007
Benn and Juice will be ready for Iowa
Kinnick Stadium empty by the start of the 4th quarter (with the exception of Illini fans) would be perfect.
Mendenhall for Heisman
BTW, Juice didn't look too hurt during celebration after the game. Let's hope the same goes for Benn.
Friday, October 05, 2007
The first ESPN game of the day, this has promise to be a fun one. Go Illini!
The Bleacher Report
Seriously people. If the author isn't a true fan would they even care that basketball recruiting has had its share of *ahem* problems? Good grief.
Yet another reason I'm glad Illinois football is good this year|
Ron Zook says he wants to retire at Illinois
On Friday at the Illini Quarterback Club, someone asked Zook if he would look elsewhere if he got the program turned around. He got the crowd on its feet by saying he'd like to retire in C-U. He's even got his next job lined up: tent guy. He wants to put all the tents that are used for tailgating at Illinois. The village might be growing.
And it appears that comment and crowd reaction came before we beat Penn State. Tell you what, he keeps recruiting guys like this, this, and this, I don't want him to go anywhere either.
Labels: Ron Zook
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Illini football getting good press?
Ron Guenther, are you paying attention? It takes talent to compete at this level. Please remember that as it relates to our hoops program. Please.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
What are the Odds?
It's been a LONG time since Illinois has been expected to even compete with a team ranked in the top 5. And although after last weekend, rankings below #1 and #2 seem to have less meaning, you still have to respect a program on a 14-game winning streak under a young head coach.
However, we proved we can play with the Badgers for at least 30 minutes when we visited Camp Randall last year. Our defense kept P.J. Hill from having much of an impact on the game, although I realize injury kept him on the sidelines.
I don't necessarily think the oddsmakers have called it, but I do expect an exciting game in Champaign this weekend. Go Illini!
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
More Illini Buzz
Finally, this last article wasn't about the Illini but it made me smile. The headline speaks for itself--"Michigan may face forfeit." Just makes you want to shed a tear doesn't it?
Have a good day everyone and GO ILLINI!
You must watch this
And if you're not excited about Illini football after watching it...or if you're a fan of another Big Ten team and you're not just a little worried about playing us this season...well then you probably don't have a pulse.
Labels: Illini football