After nearly a month on the road, including a bye week with no game at all, Ron Zook brings his charges home to Memorial Stadium to face Minnesota for Homecoming in Champaign-Urbana. The place where this tradition began many years ago, the Illini will be glad to get back in front of the faithful. Not that the last few weeks have been totally bad for the Illini, they split their two games and had a chance to relax and heal some injuries with the bye week. The back end of the two game road swing, a trip to Ann Arbor, where the Illini never seem to play very well. The result was much better than anticipated, as Illinois rolled the Wolverines 45-20 in what could be labeled the Juice Williams show. All Juice did was total 431 yards of total offense, throwing for 310 yards, and rushing for another 121. The performance set a Michigan Stadium record for an individual performance, one that is not likely to be broken for quite some time. Williams threw 2 touchdowns, one to Daniel Dufrene, and the other one to Jeff Cumberland, which totaled 77 yards. Arrelious Benn caught 6 balls for 122 yards, but did not reach the endzone. It is dominance such as this that gives one the thought that maybe this Illini team is not that far from contending for a Big Ten title. Sure, the loss to Penn State didn't help in that regard, and they still have games against Wisconsin and Ohio State left on the schedule, so this could be a tall order for the 2008 season. Nevertheless, the Illini are now 3-2 overall and 1-1 in Big Ten play coming into the game against Minnesota (11:00 am, ESPN). This game has irony written all over it, since the Golden Gophers are coached by Tim Brewster, who was a tight end for the Illini back in the 1980's. I'm sure that Brewster would like nothing more than to beat his alma mater, who took his Gophers to the woodshed last year, 44-17 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. So, I'm sure that is weighing on his mind as well.
The next phase of the "Zook Zone" campaign will be unveiled on Saturday, when the Illini want the fans to "Rock The House". Fans are encouraged to bring their Zook Zone towels with them to the game and wave them when Minnesota has the ball. The fans are also encouraged to stand whenever the opponent has the ball, making Memorial Stadium a decided Illini Territory. Hey, if Penn State can have a "white-out" at Beaver Stadium, why can't Illinois do the same with the color orange? It would make for quite a spectacle, and I'm sure the players would thoroughly enjoy the atmosphere. So, whadda you say Illini fans, those of you going to the game on Saturday......MAKE SOME ILLI-NOISE!!
Immediately following the football game, Memorial Stadium will be transformed into the "World's Biggest Basketball Practice", showcasing both the mens and women's teams for the 2008-09 season. Flex Court Athletics, a company out of Kewanee, Illinois, is donating the playing surface for the event, which will take place in the horseshoe area of the stadium. Once the game clock hits zero, the players will come out and start warming up. Among the events to take place include a three-point shooting contest, slam dunk contest, and a short scrimmage. The DIA estimates that the event will last no longer than 45 minutes. So, if you're attending the game on Saturday, why not stick around a while longer and take in the first basketball practice in an outdoor venue.
Up next week, a full report from Illinois basketball media day, as well as a preview of the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz NBA exhibition game, which will be at the Assembly Hall next Friday night.