Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Step Backward

This is my favorite time of the year. The time when the sports seasons overlap and you literally have something going on every night. With meaningful football still being played into October and the start of basketball season just around the corner, things are beginning to pick up on campus. The first question of the day would have to be what has happened to the football team? After the early loss to Missouri, the Illini reeled off 5 straight wins and it was looking like a New Year's Day bowl game was in the offing. Well, that's where the problem begins. Looking ahead like that and not paying attention to the bumps that lie ahead on the road (Iowa, Michigan) can sometimes come back to haunt you. This past weekend, the Illini and Wolverines did battle in the national spotlight, and if you can coin the phrase "beating yourself", then that would apply to the Illini on this given night. It looked very good early on for Illinois, as they got in the endzone early against Michigan. The Illini actually led 14-3 before the Wolverines began to chip away. But just like a dollar bill, you need four quarters to make a dollar, and the Illini have been having trouble sustaining their momentum the entire game. It seems that whatever is going well in the first half is abandoned in the second, and more often than not, it is difficult to win games when this occurs. Rashard Mendenhall carried the ball 18 times for 85 yards, but did not find paydirt this weekend, the second such week that he has not scored. What may be more puzzling is the quarterback situation, although Ron Zook does not think he has a quarterback controversy. Juice Williams only completed 8 of 14 passes for just 76 yards with a touchdown pass to Jacob Willis, but also was picked off once. Backup signal caller Eddie McGee also saw action, but didn't exactly light it up either, completing 6 of his 12 passes for just 46 yards. So, the question that begs asking is this: would it make a difference if McGee started in place of Williams? I'm not sure the answer to this, but McGee has a way of moving the Illini down the field that Juice does not. Perhaps we will get to find out this weekend, when the Illini step out of conference to host the Ball State Cardinals for Homecoming at Memorial Stadium (11:00 am, CT, Big Ten Network). One thing is for certain coming into this game; the best quarterback on the field will probably be wearing red. According to Zook, Cardinal quarterback Nate Davis is probably one of the best all-around players in the midwest, and if the Illini aren't careful, he could torch them. Yes, the Illini are in a bit of a rut right now, but Zook like the attitude of the players after another tough loss. In his weekly address to the media contingent, he said that the team was down, but ready to bounce back in front of the alumni. Plus, Zook went on to add that the Illini still have a lot to play for, and at 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten, are still only 1 win away from being bowl eligible. Regardless of what happens, the Illini will be okay in the end. The talent is there; they just need to play to their potential and quit beating themselves.
Fans looking for an alternative to parking congestion and construction woes can breathe s collective sigh of relief. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics has a program that they have been doing all season that can alleviate some of this. For $1, fans can park their vehicles at the parking garage at the corner of University and Goodwin Avenues and board an MTD shuttle that will take them to the stadium (don't worry, it will take you back to the garage after the game, as well). According to Kent Brown, the service has been a success, but would like to see even more people take advantage of it.
It seems hard to believe, but basketball season is almost upon us. This Sunday marks the annual Orange and Blue Scrimmage, which signals the official start of the season. The Illini will be a veteran team, but with only 2 seniors on the roster, still have a lot of youth. Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle are the lone seniors, and will be expected to take on the leadership role with junior Chester Frazier, a task that all three say they are ready to undertake. If there's one thing that Bruce Weber has this year that he lacked last season, it is the abundance of bodies available on the court. Several redshirt candidates loom, including freshmen Mike Tisdale, Bill Cole and Mike Davis. Players never want to hear the "r" word, because they all come to college to play basketball and not sit out. But for some, redshirting is more needed than you think. Just think if Warren Carter would have taken his. He'd be back this season, ready to lead the Illini into battle. Some players are just not physically ready for the rigors of the Big Ten, and need a year to get stronger and more physically fit. Oh yeah, then there's that Jordan kid. Probably the most hyped walk-on at Illinois in some time, Jeff Jordan has looked pretty good in practice, and may actually see some playing time. His famous father, Michael, was on campus last week filming a segment for "The Today Show", and rumor has it that he is in the market for a house in west Champaign. But all of this aside, Weber has taken plenty of heat regarding recruiting and missing out on the big names, but even that tide seems to be turning. Weber will have a lot of decisions to make in the next couple of weeks, because the exhibition season begins next Wednesday at home against Quincy University. Good times indeed.

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