Monday, October 27, 2008
The Illini have shown so much promise at times this season. And we saw glimpses of greatness on Saturday. Especially from Brit Miller. He recorded 16 tackles, including 13 solo tackles, 2 stops for a loss and 3 pass breakups (one that was nearly an interception). Juice also showcased his ability to move the Illini down the field, with his wide receivers making plays. He passed for 221 yards, well below his average, but the Illini had every opportunity to maintain control. Hoomanawanui had a spectacular one-handed catch. Benn made great plays, as expected.
But the Illini have also shown so much disappointment, mostly in the form of mistakes that allowed opportunities to slip past the Illini. Juice has improved overall this year, but not so much on Saturday. Three interceptions was more than the Illini could recover from. And so many penalties...
But give the cornered Badgers credit. Vast improvement by Wisconsin QB Dustin Sherer in his second start resulted in quite a few clutch plays that kept them alive. Their defense made plays, and their offense took advantage. This may have been a "mercy victory" as one Badger fan told me, but Bret and his team fought hard for it.
The Illini had opportunity, but couldn't capitalize. As the team endures a tough week of practice, as promised by their coach, let's hope they show fire against the Hawkeyes next week...
Labels: Illini football
Saturday, October 25, 2008
The Badgers are wounded. They are 0-4 in the Big Ten. That's hard to believe. And to think they may actually be 0-5? Not without a fight. The Badgers will show up to defend their home turf. They may have fallen to a weak Michigan team and an uncertain Iowa team on the road, but they had Penn State and Ohio State back-to-back at home. Obviously they are looking to avoid a repeat of those performances as they welcome the Illini for their homecoming.
I look forward to seeing which team Coach Zook brings to Camp Randall. If the team that played at the Big House shows up, we will have lots to cheer. But if the team that played the Gophers shows up, it could be a long afternoon. The Illini have managed to handle Hill and Beckum in the past, but this year's defense will have to work hard to repeat that success. Juice will need to continue directing an explosive offense with few mistakes.
It should be a good game...Go Illini!
Labels: Illini football
On the Court
The Illini swept Purdue on Wednesday night in a great match, and it was fun to watch. The Illini also notched a win against Wisconsin at home, and finished off the week by taking the match at Michigan State in 3 sets.
I saw a lot to appreciate in the Illini play -- solid defense, great hitting and some beautiful kills. But there were plenty of competitive volleys on both sides. And now I need to remember to watch the broadcast schedule for BTN. I'd love to catch another Illini game.
Labels: Illini volleyball
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Should be a great game, with a beautiful orange background. Go Illini!
Labels: Illini volleyball
Monday, October 20, 2008
That's More Like It
Of course, Indiana is having a tough year, and starting QB Kellen Lewis stayed home, but it was encouraging to see the Illini look more like the team that went to Ann Arbor than the team that played the Gophers.
One highlight -- the Illini running game is looking stronger all the time. Jason Ford was given the chance to start, and he made the most of it, with 172 yards and 3 TDs. Daniel Dufrene has pleasantly surprised many, and with Mikel LeShoure and Troy Pollard, Zook has choices in the running game.
Juice continued to put up impressive numbers, and the Illini offense rolled. Even special teams got involved, with A.J. Jenkins returning a kickoff 96 yards for the final TD. Beyond A.J.'s nice moves, the final downfield block was fun to watch once or twice.
So now the Illini need to focus this week to get ready to face the struggling Badgers in Madison...
Labels: Illini football
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Top-Ranked Illini Up to Par
Monday, October 13, 2008
So this is how Minnesota fans handle winning
Minnesota played a very good football game Saturday and deserved to win. They have a very good team and Brewster appears poised to take them far. However, I don't think I can be convinced that Minnesota has more talent than Illinois at this point, which makes this an even worse loss for us and the reason I was expecting a win. We lost because we didn't want the game as bad as Minnesota did and we made way too many dumb mistakes. This isn't whining. It's not an excuse. It's the truth and the reason we lost.
Minnesota fans may disagree with me but if they do it actually diminishes the win for them. It's a pretty big deal to beat a team when you are overmatched, which is what happened Saturday.
As to the classlessness, I revise my earlier comments to say that there was poor sportsmanship on both sides of the ball. However, I just watched the game tape. There is a difference between playing hard and playing dirty. The Gophers did both.
Juice was hit after he was out of bounds (by about two feet). Some of those penalties where the player gets hit out of bounds are questionable but in this one, Hightower showed absolutely no hint of even trying to slow down.
As for the Van De Steeg incident, he actually threw it down on Benn first (when Benn didn't have the ball and wasn't even close to where the play was being made). Benn retaliated when he probably should have walked away and that's when Van De Steeg clearly threw a punch at Benn. I love the Minnesota fan who justifies this by saying they all had full pads on so punching is ok. I'm sure folks would feel the same way if Brit Miller clocked their quarterback or best receiver. Last I checked they're playing football, not boxing.
And apparently the Big Ten likes to reward bad behavior because it named Van De Steeg co-defensive player of the week. Brilliant.
The Gopher faithful who read this may say I'm whining but I still believe it's honorable to play with class. I like to respect the teams that beat the ones I root for but I won't do that if they play dirty.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Laying an Egg and Classlessness
Today we had stupid mistakes early that cost us momentum and I didn't think it looked like we wanted it as bad as Minnesota did, either. We were not crisp and were outplayed by a team we clearly should have handled. It wasn't a gimme win but we should have won.
As for my feelings about the folks on the opposite sideline, this was obviously a big game for Tim Brewster coming back to play against his alma mater. If I recall correctly, Brewster was on Ron Guenther's short list for the head coaching vacancy at Illinois a couple years back. However, Guenther chose Ron Zook over Brewster so it wouldn't surprise me if Brewster wanted this one to show Guenther and the Illini Nation what he can do as a coach.
Call me unimpressed, despite the win.
The punch Gopher DE William Van De Steeg threw at Benn (ESPN showed it on replay plenty of times) and the late hit out of bounds on Juice. That kind of garbage as no place in the game. And of course the irony is that when Van De Steeg put the hit on Juice late in the game that caused the interception, Mr. Van De Steeg shouldn't have still been allowed on the field in the first place.
Despite this, Illinois should have been better prepared for this game, more focused on the field and come away with the win today. Let's hope we do better against Indiana next week.
Welcome Home, Tim
As a proud Illini alum yourself, you know how we take pride in welcoming distiguished Illini back to campus. I hope you appreciate all that the Illini gave you today:
- 2 fumbles and an interception, one that tuned into the score you needed to win
- 5 penalties for 46 yards
- 1 missed field goal
- Generous field position, thanks to the special teams play
- Several missed field tackles (one of our specialties) and plenty of space for your receivers
- 1st Gopher Big Ten road win in nearly 2 years
- And, probably most valuable -- bowl eligibility
We would have appreciated it if you, like most honored alums, willingly gave back as generously as you were given. Like a TD instead of that goal-line stand. That would have been nice. Or a little more room for Juice in general. Or maybe you should have just asked for the Illini to honor your return with a top-notch performance, instead of just focusing on getting the most out of your team.
I'm sure you noticed that campus and Memorial Stadium have both changed quite a bit since you were there. But excitement for Illini football is running high, much like it was in your day. And, as much as it hurts to admit it, your Gophers played really well, and the Illini looked like the team we saw against Louisiana-Lafayette instead of the team that played Michigan last week. (By the way, as an alum and a Big Ten coach, can you help but smile at their home loss to Toledo? Althought that does make things look worse for Bret in Madison...but I digress.)
On the somewhat brighter side for your alma mater, you got an up-close look at how quickly their offense can put points on the board. And in the 4th quarter, you saw a couple great pass coverage plays, and a beautiful forced fumble as well.
Anyway, congratulations on your return to Champaign. Just don't expect this treatment in the future.
Labels: Illini football
Friday, October 10, 2008
I hope you do remember -- it hasn't been that long. The Illini were 2-10 in 2006, under 2nd-year coach Ron Zook. That second win, though -- that was at Michigan State on a beautiful September day. The Illini got off to a great start, and led going into the 4th quarter, but the Spartans battled back. But a field goal with just seconds left gave the Illini their first Big Ten win since 2004. The Illini made news because they tried to plant the team flag in the center of the field, creating an "altercation" between teams. And what a feeling that was...hope that the Illini football future looked bright... Especially when, just 15 month later, the Fighting Illini were in Pasadena...
Why do I bring that up now? Because the Golden Gophers, under 2nd-year coach Tim Brewster, are about at that spot today. They are coming off their first Big Ten win under their new coach, and after going 4-0 in non-conference play, there is a spark of hope (maybe even a small flame) for the future of Minnesota football. Granted, those 4 Ws came against teams like Bowling Green and Northern Illinois, but after losing to Bolwing Green in 2007, a win is a definite improvement. And the Big Ten win was against Indiana, another struggling Big Ten team. But it was still a win. The Gophers are hopeing for more -- a signature road win that, no matter what else happens in 2008 -- proves that better days are ahead.
And the Gophers will be looking for that in Memorial Stadium this weekend. While it's unlikely that they will find it, the Illini can't take this game for granted. While Brewster may not have the high-profile experience Zook brought to Illinois, he is working hard to build a program. Zook has his team where they need to be, 3-2 heading into a couple "softer" Big Ten games at home, Minnesota and Indiana. No question the Illini should dominate here, but they can't look past this game or next week's battle against Indiana to the Wisconsin game that follows.
Take care of business at home. Welcome the alumni back with a W. Work on improving the defense. Work on protecting the football. Work on winning, no matter who is on the field.
Labels: Illini football
Monday, October 06, 2008
By the Numbers...
- 431 yards: The new Michigan Stadium record for total yards (310 passing, 121 rushing) by a single player in one game, set by Juice Williams, College Game Day Final helmet sticker recipient
- 431 yards: The most yards by a single player against Michigan, tied by Juice Williams, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week
- 45 points: Most points the Illini have ever scored against the Michigan Wolverines (on the football field, of course)
- 25 points: Most points the Illini have beaten the Wolverines by, tying the 1924 game
- 45 points: Most by a Michigan opponent in the Big House since 1991 (Florida State scored 51)
- 2, 4, 9: Number of sacks (back-to-back), tackles for loss, and total tackles respectively, recorded by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Brit Miller
- 0: Juice interceptions on Saturday
- 122 yards: Rejus Benn career high on 6 catches, and while he didn't have any TDs Saturday, he was a vital part of the offense, as always
- 69 yards: Michigan rushing yards against the Illini defense -- on 35 carries
- 4 sacks: Suffered by Wolverine QB Steven Threet
- 109,750 fans: Number of people in the Big House for Michigan's 2008 Homecoming game against Illinois
- 34 bowls: Streak Michigan is currently riding -- and hoping to continue
- #3: AP ranking of Mizzou, the team the Illini lost to in the season opener
- #6: AP ranking of Penn State, the team the Illini lost to in the Big Ten opener
- 3-2: Current Illini football record, likely to improve over the next couple weeks...
The Illini offense is clicking on all cylinders, the defense is improving (gotta like a goal-line stand at the 6" line, even if they eventually converted on 4th and 1 or so) and the Big Ten race is looking tighter all the time...
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Hey Tupper...It's Just a Coincidence
Saturday, October 04, 2008
Big Win in the Big House
Anyway, I hope to write more later but my initial observations:
1. Juice is awesome. He's putting the offense and the team on his shoulders. The 50-yard run was the dagger and showed why he's probably going to be in contention for the Heisman next season.
2. The defense is driving me crazy. I thought at the beginning of the year our D-line was supposed to be top notch. They've shown themselves to be anything but. Can someone explain this to me? And this says nothing of the secondary. It's going to be a long game in Camp Randall in a couple weeks if these guys don't figure out how to cover the deep ball.
3. The TV coverage drove me nuts. I lost count at how many times the announcers threw out excuses for Michigan's poor play. It seemed to me that it took until Illinois finally put the game away for them to start giving Illinois the props we deserve. And could they have cut away to anymore shots of Coach Rich?
4. Which leads me to: From what I observed from his demeanor on the sideline, he's the perfect fit for the Wolverines in the tradition of previous coaches: always seems angry.
Big House = Big Game
But as the Cubbies fade into their traditional post-season form, the Illini are still defining who they will be this year. We know a few things:
- The offense is exciting and very talented.
- The defense needs to work on the basics.
- The Illini schedule isn't as friendly as it was last year, with both Penn State and Wisconsin on the road.
- I've been to Pasadena to see 1-loss USC play, and while I look forward to going back, I'd love to visit Florida or San Antonio about a week after Christmas, just to see what it's like that time of year...
And I think that this week we will learn a lot -- like just how good the offense is and if the defense can learn to consistently stand up the opposing team. Michigan all of a sudden looks really good after their comeback at home against the Badgers last week. But they are still getting to know Rich and their new system. They are quickly improving, as you would expect any team with a coach of that caliber to do, but the Illini are better than many people think.
I must admit that those College Game Day guys really do know what they are talking about. They correctly pointed out -- as did one of our readers -- that the Illini losses are against top teams. Mizzou is at #4 this year, and looking to roll at Nebraska today, and #6 Penn State can practice their road skills against Purdue's weak defense. At the end of the day, our losses will probably look pretty good. And, Lee and Kirk made the point that Juice, Benn and company averaged 33 points in those losses. They picked the Illini this morning, and while their picks mean little, it was nice to get national recognition for what they've done so far this season.
Today's game at Ann Arbor is a big deal for both teams. Michigan has the opportunity to prove they are making real progress or that the second half of last week's game was a blip to preview what may be coming in the next few years. And Illinois can prove that they really do compete against top 10 teams -- and beat everybody else. This game is a big question mark in the Illinois schedule, and a win here would show that Zook's boys are establishing themselves as consistent Big Ten contenders.
There's no question that the Illini are capable of beating the Wolverines. They've shown they can compete on the road in a crazy stadium. The Illini just need to limit mistakes, and take nothing for granted.
Labels: Illini football