Thursday, September 24, 2009
At the Horseshoe
A quick look at the stats shows the Illini second in the conferense in rushing yards per game, third in overall yards per game, but tenth in passing yards per game. Not what we expected, but much of that is skewed by Juice being out a couple weeks ago. In comparison, Ohio State is fifth in passing, 9th in rushing and 8th in overall yards per game. But these numbers don't mean much, given easy non-conference games and that the Illini have only played 2 games.
So will the Illini defense that had miscues against Missouri show up against Terrelle Pryor? Will the explosive offense we expected be able to move the ball down the field on the road? Will the Illini stay healthy?
I have no idea. Given what we've seen so far, this will be a tough game for the Illini. The D will need to step up big, and the offense will need to reach their potential for the Illini to once again shock the Buckeyes at the Horseshoe. Possible? Of course. But likely? Not really.
But whatever happens, go Illini!
Labels: Illini football
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Big Ten Snapshot
Illinois: The Illini got off to a very disappointing start with the inability to score against Missouri, a game where they were favored. Benn and Juice have been banged up, and linebacker Martez Wilson is out for the season. The running game against Illinois State was nice, but the next few games will be a challenge.
Indiana: The Hoosiers are off to a relatively strong start, given their football history. They are 3-0, with directional wins over Eastern Kentucky and Western Michigan. Last week they beat Akron. Definitely games a "power" conference should handle, so Indiana is holding their own. They open conference play against Michigan this week.
Iowa: Although the Hawkeyes are 3-0, they started the season with tight win over Northern Iowa. Now, yes, the Panthers are among the best in their division, but the two blocked punts in the final seconds to preserve the lead...ouch. Iowa took care of their in-state rivals, and the win over Arizona was respectable.
Michigan: At #23 in the AP poll and 3-0, Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines are trending up. They easily took care of Eastern and Western Michigan, but the win over then #18 Notre Dame gave credence to improvements in the program.
Michigan State: The Spartans played a very good game at Notre Dame, even though they lost. However, their loss to Central Michigan is one of the black marks from the Big Ten "cupcake" season. They lost the game on a second-chance field goal -- and that second chance was due to a penalty. But if the Spartans compete like they did against the Irish, they could be pleased with their season.
Minnesota: The Golden Gophers have contributed to the overall conference image with an overtime win against Syracuse and the 5 TD performance of Cal's Jahvid Best. However, Adam Weber to Eric Decker will likely be a common theme throughout the season. Will this season live up to the surprising performance the Gophers had last year? If the Cal game is any indication, maybe not. But they won't be conference push-overs, either.
Northwestern: A close win over Eastern Michigan didn't make the Wildcats look all that impressive, but the GPA match-up last weekend was Northwestern at Syracuse. The 'Cats lost to point guard/QB Greg Paulus. However, their QB Mike Kafka has been playing well, completing 16 straight passes to start against the Orange last week.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes sit at #13 in the AP rankings. They started off the season with a scare at home against Navy. Although they played tough, allowing USC to come from behind to win in Columbus also contributed to the image of a down Big Ten. (I would have liked to see that game, though.) tOSU should get credit for playing a top team early in the season, but a W over the Trojans would have been nice for the team and the conference, especially after the Huskies took care of them this past weekend.
Penn State: Known for a very sweet "cupcake" schedule, #5 Penn State has taken care of business to open the season. JoePa's boys turned in strong performances over Akron, Syracuse and Temple. They can do a lot for the conference image as they host College GameDay this weekend for their conference opener against Iowa, who spoiled their season last year. Oh, and it's good to see Joe Paterno run out with his team, even with the limp. He still commands respect.
Purdue: The Boilermakers and first-year coach Danny Hope have gotten off to a rough start at 1-2. The close loss at Oregon looked fairly reasonable, but their home loss to Northern Illinois last weekend hurt. A win against the Irish this weekend would be a big boost before they tackle conference play.
Wisconsin: Bret Bielema and the Badgers are 3-0, but one of those Ws was a 2OT win over Fresno State at home. They took care of Northern Illinois, and dominated Wofford as expected. The Badgers should be competitve in the Big Ten as usual.
But overall, only 3 Big Ten teams are in the top 25, and performances to date haven't been spectacular. It's a good thing I enjoy Big Ten football, regardless of quality. Could be a long season for some teams...but I'd like to see some better bowl performances out of the conference in a few months.
Labels: Big Ten football
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Nervous gasps sounded around a campfire.
"But, Illinois ran for 384 yards, and leads Illinois State 45 -17 with 1:45 left in the 4th quarter."
That report from Illini Cousin #1 recieved sighs of relief and a rousing "Oskee-wow-wow" at a family gathering. (A majority of us share an Alma Mater.) The Illini needed a win after such a disappointing start in the season opener. And they needed to not lose to a non-conference cupcake without their starting QB.
But what the 2-minute report left out was that Eddie McGee led the Illini to victory after Juice went down in the first series. And Martez Wilson didn't play, either. Injuries could cause serious problems for the Illini this year. And so could the start of the Big Ten season. This off week will be spent getting boys healthy and preparing for Ohio State.
Labels: Illini football
Monday, September 07, 2009
Some Answers, More Questions
The Illini answered many of the questions asked before kickoff...
On offense, the O-line proved they could protect the QB and provide time for Juice to throw, and although Juice went down for a loss 3 times, he only lost a total of 8 yards. Depth at RB was needed, with Mikel LeShoure scoring the Illini TD while Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford nursed ankle injuries. The Illini passed for 215 yards with 12 individuals recording completions. Jarred Fayson made a spectacular catch, which was encouraging, given that Benn left the game after the first offensive series.
On defense, the D-line and linebackers did a solid job containing the Tiger run game. They held Mizzou to 117 yards (the Illini had 110 yards on the ground, making this aspect of the game nearly even). Gabbert's runs seemed to be the most difficult for them to stop, but they improved during parts of the game. However, fatigue became a factor late in the game.
But the Illini raised additional questions that must be answered quickly if the Illini want to contend this season:
- Were Saturday's mistakes just first-game jitters, or do they indicate deeper problems? The most effective group at stopping the Illini offense was...the Illini offense. A couple turnovers, the miscue on 4th-and-1 when Juice got stepped on...not what you would expect from such an experienced group. A few costly penalties, a dropped return, a missed extra point -- all cause for concern.
- Can the Illini secondary step up? The loss of Miami Thomas before the season began could be an issue. The secondary did ok much of the game, but the Tigers capitalized on blown coverage on a few key plays, leading to big games and points. These guys need to improve as quickly as possible.
- Can the Illini stay healthy? Ankle injuries plagued the team.
- Will the offseason leadership see the Illini past this rough start? The 7-to-9 leadership of Juice and Benn will be critical for the team to get back on track after a very disappointing start.
Labels: Illini football
Friday, September 04, 2009
Go Get Them Tigers
Missouri lost a lot of players from last year's team, leaving them with their share of question marks. Actually, there are plenty of unknowns on both sidelines, according to the coaches. How will Mizzou's new QB perform? Will Martez Wilson provide the defensive leadership we've come to expect from the middle linebacker? Can Juice limit turnovers? Does anybody care about Sean Weatherspoon's tweets?
Here are a few things to watch for this weekend:
- Jarred Fayson, the WR transfer from Florida, who will return to the field after sitting out as required last season
- The flow of the Illini offense under new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz and senior QB Juice Williams, who have been working together to prepare for the season
- How QB Blaine Gabbert handles the pressure to fill Chase Daniel's shoes
- What will defensive tackle Josh Brent do with his new chance on the Illini team? He received a DUI while driving on a suspended lisence, and spent 30 days in jail, but earlier this week Coach Zook confirmed that Brent will be on the field, and that he accepted his punishment and is doing his best not to repeat his mistakes
- Play of a less-experienced Tiger secondary against the Illini receivers -- let's hope it's as unbalanced as last year...
- The number of references made by national commentators on the UI admissions debacle
The Illini have dropped 4 straight to the Tigers. But the Illini are poised to break that streak. Juice and company have had no problem scoring on Missouri the last 2 years. If the Illini D steps up against Gabbert's offense, they can start the season with a W.
But enough questions. Go get the Tigers...Go Illini!