Monday, November 03, 2008

Illini Defense Comes to Play

Um, that was closer than it needed to be. And it wasn't pretty. But I'll take the W.

So the Iowa defense is their strength, but it was the Illini D standing strong -- especially early in the game. I was incredibly impressed that Iowa came away with just 6 points in 3 trips to the Red Zone. The Illini defense watched Shonn Greene carefully, and they didn't let him get too far. He did have a couple plays for distance later in the game, but the Illini gave him his season-low game total rushing yards and season-low yards per carry. The forced fumble for a TD was one of the top highlights of the day, and Vontae's last-second interception sparked a deep sigh of relief from the sidelines and stands. It would have been nice if the defense that stood Iowa up on the goal line had also played the 4th quarter, but allowing Iowa to tie the game certainly made it interesting.

Juice and his offense didn't find as many of the big plays that characterized them earlier in the season, and the dropped passes hurt. The turnovers almost lost the game for the Illini, but the first interception was a lucky tip of a pass that was on target, and give the Iowa D credit for the Ford strip. But Benn played well, and, for the record, he hates Iowa. (Another reason I love the kid.) And he's not alone. The team really wanted to beat Iowa. And it was great to see the offense respond on that last drive, complete with clutch receptions by backup QB Eddie McGee, to bring the Illini back from the brink.

So while this didn't look like the team that hung tough with Penn State and dominated Michigan and Indiana, this did look like a team that can win a couple more games. And they will need to do just that to have a chance to play during the holidays.

Five wins with Western Michigan coming up in Detroit. Although the Illini will be without Mikel LeShoure, who has a broken jaw thanks to a teammate, they should be able to get win #6 and a bit of momentum before facing Ohio State at home.

Go Illini!

A few additional notes:
1. It's hard to watch with Iowa fans, especially when you are imposing on their hospitality.
2. I'm quite disappointed in the Iowa fan who created an event schedule that forced me to miss the very end of the game. I just needed another 15 minutes, and I would have liked to watch the game-winning field goal.
3. Although my niece may be raised with mixed Iowa-Illinois games loyalties , she does, at 16 months, believe that Herky says, "Gobble, gobble!" And although she came up with that on her own, I certainly didn't discourage her from repeating it...


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