Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Illini in XLII
I usually like to have a team to cheer for. But other than rooting for or against a perfect season, there's no compelling reason to pick a team. So I will cheer for "my" boys:
- Giants Guard David Diehl has started every game since he was drafted from Illinois in 2003. He was on the line that allowed Antoineo Harris rush for 1,000+ yards while Brandon Lloyd racked up 1,000+ yards receiving.
- Patriots DB Eugene Wilson was drafted the same year, and started in the secondary early in the season. He returned an interception for a TD against the Jets in December. Slowed by injuries, he has played in reserve in the post-season.
I expect to see both Illini on the field Sunday. Congrats to them both on making it to Arizona!
Labels: Super Bowl
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
The pieces are there. They just need to put them together and figure out how to overcome whatever the "challenge" happens to be on any given day, like poor shooting (tOSU), turnovers (Purdue), poor rebounding (Penn State), foul trouble or free throws (lots of games). This team is close. They have shown flashes of promise, and sometimes even full games (like Michigan).
Again, this will be a tough season, but we can handle it. Hang in there, boys -- and fans. There is hope for the future. Go Illini!
Labels: Illini basketball
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Illini hoops: #7 nationally
Sunday, January 13, 2008
If the Hoosiers have been paying attention (and you know they have), they know Illinois is down this year. Many experts expected a different kind of ugly game -- a lopsided victory by a ranked team with a one-year wonder against a solid defensive team that struggles to score.
But what the Illini served up on national TV proved that every game is played because anything can happen. Calvin Brock and Brian Randle combined for great defense on the Hoosiers leading freshman scorer (E something or other, I think). McCamey proved to be a very capable ball handler with Chester out with a rib cage injury. Pruitt battled D.J. White in the paint. Trent did his best to wear out the freshman guarding him, and made key baskets. The extra pass provided more than one great shot. The Illini fought hard -- and well -- with a respectable shooting percentage. Yes, a few more free throws would have helped, but we were still in the game at the end.
With the exception of the typical few-minute drought halfway through the second half that allows our opponenets to build a slight lead, I like what I've seen from the Illini during the Big Ten season, especially on the road. Madison and Bloomington are not easy places to play, but the Illini have showed up and played hard. They've given us ugly, physical, classic Big Ten basketball. Yes, wins would be even better, but it's still beautiful.
Labels: Illini basketball
Monday, January 07, 2008
Can You Handle It?
Many of the pieces are there:
- Great defense that allows us to hang in there with almost anyone. In fact, take Butler off the court, and the Illini were right there with tOSU.
- Exciting rebounding -- even if it did disappear against Penn State.
- A strong inside game. Shaun Pruitt has had some monster games, and Brian Randle has some shining moments, as well. In fact, Randle didn't even get a foul until the second half against the Buckeyes. And the freshmen are showing promise for the future.
- An improving ability to drive inside. McCamey is starting to play this game better, as demonstrated in the effort to come back against the Nittany Lions.
- Sharp passing and great ball movement, even against zone defense. The ball just doesn't always get inside.
- Our outside shooting isn't as strong as hoped, but Meacham, Brock and McCamey have all had streaks where they were "on."
But the puzzle just isn't coming together as expected. So what's a fan to do?
In my opinion, a struggling team needs support from their fans more than frustrated criticism. I'll focus on the former and let let the coaching staff take care of the latter. This may not be an easy year to cheer for our boys, but they are still our boys. There is great promise for the future, and there are still guys that want to play for the Orange and Blue (like Luther's little bro).
So what about you? Are you a strong enough fan to hang in through this season? Can you take the heartbreaking losses? I hope you are. Don't wimp out on these boys -- they still wear our colors.
Labels: Illini basketball
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Illini Orange in Pasadena|
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Some positive media coverage
Every national writer should pay attention to this key excerpt from Greenstein's story (thanks for getting it right, Teddy):
This result was so lopsided, it begs the question: Should Georgia have been here instead of Illinois?
ABC/ESPN officials, mindful of the southern TV markets that would tune in to watch SEC players do situps, pushed for the Bulldogs to receive strong consideration.
But Georgia really wasn't an option after Missouri lost in the Big 12 title game, boosting LSU into the BCS championship. Without LSU, the Sugar Bowl lost its Southeastern Conference anchor.
The Rose Bowl retained the first at-large selection because Ohio State finished ahead of LSU in the BCS standings. But Rose Bowl CEO Mitch Dorger said he would have had to ask the Sugar Bowl for permission to release Georgia.
Dorger wasn't about to do that because the Sugar Bowl is its partner in the BCS. And with Hawaii in the game, the Sugar Bowl needed a SEC opponent to fill seats in New Orleans.
Ok, everyone repeat after me for the 3,409,512,368th time: "YET ANOTHER REASON WE NEED A PLAYOFF."
You can take a look at Downey's column here. Key excerpt:
Juice Williams and the Orange got crushed, beaten to a 49-17 pulp Tuesday by a Southern California team that continued to kick the visitors while they were down.
A greedy Pete Carroll had his Trojans try to score another touchdown on the game's final play instead of taking a knee. Gee, thanks, coach. What a gracious host.
An unfortunate end to an ugly game.
Unsportsmanlike conduct was everywhere. There were yellow flags galore, whether it was for a somersault into the end zone by a fourth-string USC showoff or for late, nasty hits by a number of frustrated Illini.
"I love these guys," coach Ron Zook said, "but we're not going to have that."
History is going to document this 94th Rose Bowl game as a painfully one-sided piece of cake for the sixth-ranked, way-too-good Trojans over the 13th-ranked, in-over-their-heads runners-up from the Big Ten.
One more thing to add to my "Eight for '08" thoughts below and it has to do with speed.
I remember watching us lose to LSU in the Sugar Bowl a couple years ago and thinking, "My gosh they are crushing us in the speed department. We don't even belong on the same field."
Well, as the national media piles on this morning about how bad we got crushed (ala their love affair with USC and Pete Carroll) it's important to note that some of our freshmen-especially on defense-were able to keep up with USC's speed.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not taking anything away from USC because they could be the best team in the country right now. But I did see some serious speed from some of our guys last night.
The one play I remember the best is the broken lateral that USC's Joe McKnight turned into a big gainer. Everyone in America-especially Musberger-thought he was going to take it to the house.
Yet out of nowhere Vontae Davis comes in from behind and drags him down. See photo here.
I think Martez Wilson also had some pretty good tackles that he used his speed to make.
Again, not taking anything away from USC but it is encouraging that Zook is building a team that's got some guys who can run with the best. If his recruiting continues as it has and he keeps bringing in this caliber of talent the future will be looking very bright in a few years.
Disappointing, But You Can Still Smell Some Roses
That was painful. But, Illini fans know how to handle painful. We have plenty recent experience with ugly losses.
The Illini made critical mistakes, but they also played well. As one USC fan said to me after the game, “The final score doesn’t reflect how well you played.” Once on track, the D held USC scoreless for a long stretch in the first half. And as Juice’s arm warmed up, our offense showed it’s explosive potential.
Here are a few of my thoughts based on my perspective from the Illini end zone…
- Rust. Most of the first half, Illinois looked like a team that hadn’t played since Nov. 17. It took too long for the passing game to get going, and most of the first quarter for the defense to stand up.
- Turnovers. They generate and kill momentum quickly. Early in the game, when the ball was ruled down before we picked it up, the Illini were fired up, but the call on the field was discouraging. But the fumbles and interceptions killed the momentum that was building in the third quarter to the point where some SC fans admitted being concerned
- USC defense. It’s good. Illinois has done very well in the red zone this season, and after the first interception, not getting any points really hurt. And once their defense figured out the Juice/Mendenhall option plays, drives stalled quickly. This unit showed they really are one of the nation’s top defenses.
- Mendenhall. He’s good. Yes, he can be stopped, but it took the Trojan defense a bit of time to figure out how to stop him, and he still had some great runs. He will be missed.
- Tough calls and lucky breaks. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t. Most everything went well for the Trojans, from a ball bouncing off one player and into the arms of another, to a questionable pass interference call that negated what appeared to be an interception by J Leman.
- Poor sportsmanship. Both teams disappointed me here, with unnecessary taunting and late hits as emotions ran high. USC reinforced their obnoxious image, but unfortunately the Illini played that game too. That behavior really takes away from the game.
- Illinois loyalty. The chant from the student section of “Thank you, seniors” during the final minutes of the game helped me remember just how far we’ve come this season. From 2 wins to 9 wins and a BCS Bowl invitation in one year? That’s impressive. Thank you, seniors.
- Atmosphere. A Bowl game is lots of fun.
- Bright future. The Rose Bowl wasn’t as competitive as hoped, but the Illini have a lot of talent returning next year, and a very strong recruiting class coming in. And we will go into the season with Bowl experience.
2007 was a year to remember. We beat Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. We won 9 games. And we had a great scouting trip to Pasadena so that players, coaches and the Illini Nation know how to do this next time. Because I firmly believe this is just the beginning. A few notes:
- The coaches saw how the team reacted to all the hype, distraction and pressure of this game – what seemed to make sense, and what didn’t, so that next year will go more smoothly.
- When in an unfamiliar environment, the cheerleaders and Marching Illini really need to help organize the Illini section so we can support our team with unity. It was hard to hear ourselves in the Rose Bowl, so we needed more leadership from the field to help us cheer.
- The L.A. area hosted us graciously, even though we were playing a “home” team. This trip raised my respect for the USC program and it’s fans. Overall, the USC fans are passionate about their team, but they are also pretty good sports (at least compared to the LSU Tiger fans in New Orleans a few years ago).
- Orange looks great in any city! I'll gladly check out the Illini scene in Orlando, San Antonio, Pasadena, etc., next year.
Finally, I refuse to allow this disappointing end spoil a wonderful season. We still had a season that exceeded expectations. And as I watched a team of very disappointed young men walk off the field, I choked up with pride in this team and their accomplishments. I am proud to be a loyal Illini.
Note: Please forgive the length of this post and it's redundancy with Chief's comments. After watching live, I had lots of thoughts to share...
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Rose Bowl summary
1. Last year we only won two games. Last I checked we only won two games the year before that as well. No one in America thought we'd be playing USC to end the season this year. There. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
2. USC is stacked with talent that could be playing in the NFL right now. We are getting stacked with talent that will be playing in the NFL in two or three years (not counting Rashard who pretty much ensured with his performance today that he will be playing on Sundays next year).
3. If Zook's recruiting continues as it has been, we are about two years away from being able to compete against the "goliaths of college football" as Herbsreit referred to USC.
4. That said, we were still in this game until we gave the ball away with some costly turnovers.
5. The defense played very well but obviously was extremely tired by the 4th quarter, hence the tackling difficulties.
6. I'm sure this will be beat to death over the next week or two but forcing our offense to run the ball over and over to start the game and for practically the entire first half didn't do our boys much good as every single USC defender pretty much played the run. Once we started to air it out at the end of the first half we got some breathing room. Not sure what Locksley and Zook were thinking there but it's sort of ironic that we kept hearing how great Locksley was this week and how he is being looked at for head coaching jobs and, in my opinion, did a pretty subpar job of calling plays at the beginning of the game.
7. No one likes a sore or arrogant winner (at least I don't). I know Illinois had its share of personal fouls (which didn't make me happy) but USC's players were beyond ridiculous when it came to taunting etc. Please. Act like you've been there before (because you have). You may have won the game big but you looked classless doing so. Congratulations.
8. Speaking of taunting I had a good friend who is a Nebraska fan text me after USC went up 14-0 talking smack (you know who you are). Must I say it again? Please. Where was Nebraska playing this New Year's Day? Did they even have a winning record? Do people who live within the state lines even believe their program is heading in the same direction as the Illinois football program? Yeesh. People.
Alma Mater in Pasadena
How about some photos from Pasadena?
Give 'Em All a Game
The Rose Bowl will be a tough game -- no question. USC is a talented football team with 6 years of BCS bowl experience. And the Illini have some big challenges. They haven't played a game since November 17. A month and a half is a very long break. And, they have no bowl experience. Most of the team was still in junior high or high school the last time the Illini played in January. They weren't even born the last time Illinois played in the Rose Bowl, and many of their parents hadn't been born the last time Illinois won the Rose Bowl.
But, as we've learned this season -- and with this team -- anything can happen. I expect a competitve game. One that, regardless of the final score, will let the PAC-10, the Big Ten and college football fans know that the Illini football program is for real. Our boys may be rusty and inexperienced, but they are talented and passionate.
But no matter what happens here in Pasadena, note that we already have a major victory. The Illini football team is playing in January. After winning an underwhelming 2 games last year, these overachievers have put themselves in the national spotlight, and they deserve it. And we get to watch them play on New Year's Day!