Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Love, Loss and What I Wore

It's a book I haven't read and a delightful play I just saw.

It also summarizes my thoughts on Illini sports during the month of October.

Love: I love my team. I often claim to bleed orange and blue. I watch. I cheer. I agonize. I rejoice. I support. I am committed to the Illini.

Loss: It started with the first play of the Indiana game - a kickoff returned for a Hoosier TD. The Illini special teams just seemed to have lost the ball carrier. Fortunately, the Illini got that turned around by the end of the first half, and went on to win in Bloomington.

Then came Stripe the Stadium (which looked really, really cool). The Buckeyes were desperate, and they have a very strong defense. It was a battle, and Illini lost turnovers were the difference in a depressing game. The Illini were poised to take off, with a very manageable remaining schedule, minus Wisconsin at home. And they couldn't go anywhere. They struggled to move (and hold on to) the ball. And the Illini picked up their first loss of the season.

Last Saturday the Illini were on the road for the second time this season. And in West Lafayette they picked up right where they left off, allowing big runs on D and struggling to move the ball on offense. Again miscues led to a very disappointing loss. I honestly don't want to dwell on it.

Later in the day, the #1 Illini volleyball team faced their toughest test of the season so far, on the road at #4 Nebraska, who were also undefeated in Big Ten play. This was a great volleyball match. The Huskers jumped out in every set, but in the first one, the Illini fought back and ground out a win. The second set was back and forth, but the Huskers finally pulled it out in the end. And somewhere along the way, the Illini lost their spark. They went on to lose their first match of the season 3-1 in Lincoln.

During the month of October these Illini teams felt the sting of loss.

What I wore: I'm not a fashionista by any stretch. Nor am I superstitious. But the last two Saturdays, I wore my bright orange sweater. It isn't exactly Illini attire, but I intentionally wear it to support my team when I can't wear my team gear. Or I did until last Saturday. I will find something else to wear this Saturday. That will be my effort help the Illini make a better showing in Happy Valley this weekend.

But losses and all, I still say, Go Illini!

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Saturday, October 01, 2011


That sounds really, really good. Especially to the #1 Illini volleyball team. They've played a couple top-15 Big Ten teams in the last couple weeks on their way to that #1 ranking and 15-0 record. Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward are leading the Illini in kills, while Anna Dorn and Erin Johnson are leading the team in blocks. Overall, this team is on a roll. Keep your eyes on these girls!

Note to the BTN: I would like to see an Illini volleyball game on your network broadcast schedule. Thanks much!

Unbeaten also sounds good to the (barely) 5-0 Illini football team. The last two gave have been...adventures. But the Illini have managed to pull out wins, despite nerve-wracking finishes. After coming from behind and way behind, I believe this team is building character and confidence that will serve them well through the rest of the season.

The Big Ten opener against Northwestern reinforced some of the weaknesses Western Michigan exposed the week before. The Illini seem to forget how to play defense for long stretches. Special teams aren't all that special. And, the running game is fading painfully.

But when these boys get hot, on either side of the ball, they are on fire. The Illini looked much, much better in the 4th quarter against Northwestern (minus the fumble). They seem to respond well to pressure.

Nate Scheelhaase is growing up as we watch. His passing has improved, but there are still times he should pull the ball down and run. And that option pitch fumble...ugh. But he did throw to a few more guys this week, although A.J. Jenkins is his obvious favorite. Congrats, Nathan, on setting your career passing record! Way to answer Dan Persa's impressive return.

Speaking of Jenkins, he's playing really, really well. And he's fun to watch. Congrats, A.J., on the Illini receiving record.

The penalties and turnovers against the Wildcats were ugly. But Northwestern deserves plenty of credit. Dan Persa proved that his team missed him, with 4 TD passes and plenty of jaw-dropping escapes from a very tough Illini D. His wide receivers came through, too. These boys were the first to get points off an Illini turnover all season.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats stopped the run effectively, holding the Illini to less than 100 yards as a team. Their defense did a great job forcing turnovers, including Jason Ford's fumble.

And the final NW play of the game was brilliant. The cross-field pass to Kain Colter and keeping the ball alive for a long time...they probably deserved to come away from this game with the upset.

But the Illini stiffened up on D and got the ball moving. The comeback was impressive. And Ron Zook's team is still unbeaten.

Go Illini!

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