Now that was a lot of orange on Saturday! The Fighting Illini ventured to upstate New York to battle the Orange of Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, a venue that was literally only half-filled by the time the game started. The Orange are struggling mightily this season, and if the outcome is any indication, it certainly didn't help them any against the Illini. After getting shellacked by Iowa 35-0 the previous week, things didn't figure to go much better for them against the upstart Illini. After all, Coach Ron Zook has been promising better things to come for the Illinois faithful, and last Saturday may have been the start of that. It was already evident that Rashard Mendenhall could run, and run he did against the Orange, to the tune of 150 yards on the ground with 3 touchdowns to lead the Illini to a 41-20 victory. In the first couple of games, the Illini passing attack has not been evident, and against the Orange not much changed, except for the fact the Juice Williams exhibited some of his running prowess, himself rushing for 90 yards and a score. Freshman Troy Pollard also got into the act, rushing for 92 yards and making a believer out of Zook. It was nice to see tight end Jeff Cumberland get into the act as well, catching Juice's first touchdown of the game, a 22 yard pass to put the exclamation point on the first drive of the game. At Zook's weekly press gathering on Tuesday, he talked about this week's opponent, the Indiana Hoosiers, and how to prepare for them. When it was brought to Zook's attention that the Illini have not won a Big Ten opener since 1993, all the coach wanted to talk about was the fact that he is 0-2 against the Hoosiers and even though this is a road game, they need to prepare for the Hoosiers like they did last year, but play at the intensity level that they had against Syracuse last week. The Hoosiers will have heavy hearts coming into the game, after their coach last season, Terry Hoeppner, died from complications of a brain tumor that left him ill for quite some time. The coach who took over for Hep, Bill Lynch, coached at Ball State for several years before a short stint at De Pauw University in nearby Greencastle, Indiana. Lynch, who inherited a pretty solid team, led by quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy. If the name James Hardy sounds familiar, that's because he also plays basketball for the Hoosiers. Lewis earned the Big Ten offensive player of the week honors for his 199 yard rushing performance against Akron last Saturday, a game the Hoosiers won 41-24 at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington. Lewis, who is a scrambler, likes to find his favorite receiver, Hardy, who racked up 65 yards on 4 catches in the win over the Zips. However, Zook also mentioned the "secret weapon" for the Hoosiers, their punt returner Marcus Thigpen. Thigpen had one of the best days in the history of Indiana last year against the Illini, as he had 311 all-purpose yards, including running the second half kickoff back 98 yards for a touchdown. Zook is well aware of what Thigpen can do, and will do their best to stop him from returning any kicks on Saturday.
The Illini will return to the Big Ten Network for the game against Indiana (11:00 am CST)
, and will mark their second appearance on the channel since its inception. This game is one that the Illini must win in order for them to even think about going bowling this year. The schedule get a lot tougher now that the conference season is upon us. With the likes of Penn State, Wisconsin and yes, even Michigan looming in the distance, building on the momentum sustained
in the Syracuse victory.
The Illini women's soccer team made their first appearance on the Big Ten Network last Friday, and came away with a 1-0 victory over #9 Florida. Before the second largest crowd in the history of the Illini Track and Soccer Stadium. Senior Ella Masar scored the game-winner in the 84th minute to propel the Illini to victory. The Illini conclude their pre-conference season this weekend with a pair of matches, playing Kansas on Friday and traveling to Indiana State on Sunday. They are currently 3-2 on the season.
The Illini volleyball team finished up their non-conference season with a pair of victories last week, defeating Southern Illinois (30-15, 30-14, 30-14) and at Toledo (30-26, 30-25, 25-30, 30-21). Led by freshman Laura DeBruler, the Illini are 8-2 on the young season. The Illini open up the Big Ten portion of the season Wednesday night at Huff Hall against #9 Wisconsin, the first game to be televised by the Big Ten Network. The Illini will also face #10 Michigan in Ann Arbor.
No word yet on the basketball assistant coach position, but all signs are pointing to a former Illini player as a possible candidate. Jerrance Howard, who currently is at Kentucky on Billy Gillispie's staff, looks to be the frontrunner at this time.
So, who do you think should get the job on Bruce Weber's staff? Someone who can hopefully recruit Chicago and get some of the in-state recruits to stay home? I welcome your opinions and comments.