Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Something Special

Against Indiana last weekend, the Illini special teams and secondary came up with a couple special plays:
The Illini running game was steady. And although the Hoosiers passed for 279 yards, they were held to just 1 TD and 2 field goals.

Offense, defense and special teams all showed great improvement compare to the past couple years. And that improvement really is something special.

Go Illini!



Saturday, October 23, 2010

Coming Home

The Illini football team will play their third Homecoming game in a row today. They spoiled the day at Penn State, but after a very tough 30 minutes at Michigan State, the home team took control for the type of Homecoming Spartan alumni expected.

Today the Illini welcome their own alumni for Homecoming weekend in Champaign. The Hoosiers are in town to challenge Coach Zook's team.

This has been a challenging game for the Illini in recent years. And Indiana's offense has the potential to take off. Their passing game has been impressive against weaker defenses. The Illini defense has improved significantly over last season, but Indiana will test the secondary, which is the most vulnerable piece of Vic Koenning's unit.

But, as seen in the past couple weeks, Indiana's defense can be porous. If Mikel LeShoure, Jason Ford and Nathan Scheelhaase get the Illini running game going, they can take control. And that would make coming home much more fun.

Coming home...Memorial Stadium does feel like a touch of home for Illini alums and fans. A stately stadium, the horseshoe seats in the south endzone, the bright orange I on the 50-yard-line, cheers of I-L-L I-N-I ringing through the air, shallow steps that lead to any seat in the stadium, the Block I and the marching Illini feel familiar to any alum who had student season tickets. Yes, there have been (relatively recent) changes with the student section and block I in the north end zone and the press box high on the west side of the field, but it's still home.

So, boys, let's see you take on Indiana with confidence, run them out past the South Farms, and treat Illini Nation to a victorious Homecoming.

Go Illini!



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stalled Out

The Illini offense -- especially the running game -- stalled in East Lansing last weekend, unable to break through the Spartans big line. But although the Illini lost big, they still showed signs of improvement compared to last season.

Let's start with areas that need to improve:
But despite the lopsided score, there are positives to build on:
The loss at Michigan State was tough to watch, but the Spartans really are a great team. And the three teams that have beaten the Illini have just one loss between them.

Next up, Indiana at home. If the defense plays well, the Illini should be able to compete well against the Hoosiers...



Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy Day in Happy Valley

Congratulations to Coach Ron Zook and the Illini! They notched the first Illini win at Penn State on a beautiful Homecoming Day in Happy Valley.

Although Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions have fallen out of the rankings this season after tough losses at Alabama and Iowa that banged up their defense, beating Penn State still sounds pretty good. (Especially after the consistent disappointment of last season.) A 20-point win on the road at a traditional powerhouse can be considered a statement win. The Illini can legitimately claim to be the most improved team in the conference.

The Illini had plenty of highlights, but the problems on special teams could (and probably should) have caused a different outcome.
But beyond those miscues, the Illini played very, very well. The defense kept Penn State in check, allowing just one big play. Compared to last year, the defense has perhaps improved the most of any of the units on the field.
To be fair, early in the game the tackles didn't look as solid as they had against other teams. And Justin Green did get beat by Penn State's top receiver on the only big play of the day. And to be honest, you can't ask for much more.

The offense kept the ball moving with solid, sustained drives.
I would like to see Scheelhaase stop trying to go over the top for extra yards at the end of runs. It looks cool, but it also increases his chances of injury.

And despite the issues on special teams, the Illini kicking game is fantastic. Derek Dimke was 4 for 4 on field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder that just had the distance needed.

Next week at Michigan State will be very tough, but the Illini have continued to improve, and they should be able to put up a fight in East Lansing. But, for now, what a great confidence-builder this game was.

Go Illini!

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Saturday, October 09, 2010

Hail to the Orange and Blue

Although I've been focused on getting to know the 2010 Illini football team, Illini sports in general have given us plenty to cheer for.

Illini volleyball has been ranked in the top ten nationally, broken Penn State's incredible conference win streak, and they have managed to remain undefeated in conference play. These girls are playing very well, and, as always, they are fun to watch.

The Illini women's soccer team has fought their way into the national rankings, and are currently #17. Their defense has been very strong, allowing just 6 goals in 11 games. And standout freshman Vanessa DiBernardo set an Illini record against Purdue, scoring all 4 of the Illini goals in the game.

Both the men's and women's tennis and golf teams have had strong performances so far this season, and the cross country teams have posted great times, as well.

There's plenty to cheer for these days. Go Illini!

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Another One

Tough test, that is. The Illini football team has a brutal schedule to open their conference season. After playing well at home against Ohio State despite the loss, the Illini are on the road in Happy Valley today. Again, not an easy place to play.

Although my recent schedule has prevented me from seeing the full game, the Illini really did play fairly well against one of the best teams in the country last week. The D held Pryor and the Buckeyes to season lows, and they got their first 2 interceptions of the season. The O started strong, complete with a fun Scheelhaase-lateral-to-Fayson-to Scheelhaase pass play for a big gain. They sputtered after that, and didn't take full advantage of turnovers, but they hung in. Despite the late tOSU touchdown that made the score look like the game wasn't all that close, the Illini played a respectable game.

The question is, how long can they play reasonably well with just a few mistakes, and still take a loss? With their schedule, that could happen for a while this season. And usually, games like that send a college team into a downward spiral.

It would be nice to see the Illini come away with a win, and they are just on the edge of capable when playing their best. And Penn State is vulnerable.

But after their disappointing loss to the Hawkeyes, JoePa will have his team ready to go at home. His true freshman QB is gaining valuable experience every week. So, once again, the Illini have a tough test. Let's see them pass this one with a victory -- and not just a moral one.

Go Illini!



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