Over the past several seasons, the Illinois football program has enjoyed a resurgence, thanks in part to Ron Zook coming to take over a squad that was run into the ground by the former regime. This marginal success has spread to the NFL, where a quite a few ex-Illini have gone on to varying degrees of success. However, this past weekend was not a good one to be a former Illini player in the league, as the injury bug hit rather hard. First, Brandon Lloyd, now a receiver with the Bears, was injured during their game on Sunday night with Philadelphia and had to leave the game. Okay, so that's one, you say. Well, fast forward to Monday night, and the Steelers-Ravens game, in which Rashard Mendenhall was making the first start of his career for the injured Willie Parker. The spotlight, however, was short-lived, as Mendenhall fractured his shoulder and is done for the season. Enter in Mendenhall's backup, also a former Illini, Carey Davis. There must have been something in the water in Pittsburgh, because Davis also left the game with an injury. The thought brought to mind a Seinfeld episode, where son, father and grandfather are all laid up in bed after throwing their backs out. Picture Parker, Mendenhall and Davis in the same situation and, well, you get the idea. As far as I know, no other former Illini players went down over the weekend, but three is plenty for one weekend, don't you think?
Now to the playing field, as the Illini came off of their bye week with a trip to Happy Valley to battle Penn State, arguably the best team that the Illini has faced all season long. Amid "white out" conditions, the Illini broke out of the gate first against their hosts and looked rather well doing it. Both teams traded scores, and at the end of the first quarter, a 14-14 tie ensued, and it looked like it would be a high scoring game. But Penn State was ranked #12 for a reason, and they eventually wore the Illini down with their running game. Daniel Dufrene led the Illini on the ground with 96 yards on 14 carries, while Juice Williams ran the ball 18 times for 64 yards. Williams completed 13 of 24 passes for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns, and was picked off once. The back-breaker for the Illini occurred in the fourth quarter, as Derrick Williams ran back a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown right after Illini placekicker Matt Eller had drilled a 43 yards field goal to cut the Nittany Lion lead to 24-17. The loss drops the Illini to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten, while Penn State remains undefeated at 5-0 overall and 1-0 in league play.
The road does not get any easier for the Illini, as they are back away from Memorial Stadiun again this weekend when they travel to Ann Arbor to face the Michigan Wolverines (2:30 pm central time, ABC Regional). Michigan escaped with a 27-25 upset win over Wisconsin last Saturday in Ann Arbor and come into the contest at 2-2 overall and 1-0 in conference play.
Don Hardin's Illini volleyball team split their first weekend of Big Ten action, defeating Indiana in 4 sets, then losing to top-ranked and defending national champion Penn State in straight sets. Johannah Bangert and Kylie McCulley came up big in the win over the Hoosiers, while the lone bright spot for the Illini in the loss to the Nittany Lions was once again McCulley, who had 9 kills and a hitting percentage of .381. Up next for the Illini, a couple of home matches this weekend, first hosting Minnesota on Friday night, then welcoming Iowa in on Saturday evening. The Illini are currently 10-3 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play.
Janet Rayfield's soccer team also split their games last weekend, defeating Wisconsin 2-1 on Friday as Jessica Levitt and Marti Desjarlais scored the Illini goals. Then, on Sunday, the Illini lost a hard fought 1-0 contest to Northwestern. Up next for the women, a return home for a couple of matches this weekend against Michigan State on Friday evening and Michigan on Sunday afternoon. The #17 ranked Illini are 7-4 overall on the season, and 1-1 in conference play.