The Fighting Illini return to the field this Saturday to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Horseshoe in Columbus. But before we look ahead to this matchup, let's take a look back at the opening win against the Illinois State Redbirds, a 45-17 rout against their neighbors to the west. However, the win over ISU didn't come without some adversity, as the Illini lost two players during the game, quarterback Juice Williams and linebacker Martez Wilson. The two injuries were vastly different, as Juice's occurred on the first play from scrimmage as he strutted down the sidelines toward the endzone. He came up lame just shy of the goal line, and what ended up being a strained quadricep muscle shelved him for the remainder of the game. Later on, the Coach Zook told the media that Juice could have played, but the doctors and trainers leaned toward the cautious side and kept him out of the game. So, that left Eddie McGee as the quarterback. McGee, who hasn't had the opportunity except for a few series' here and there, performed admirably, completing 13 of 17 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown pass to Chris Duvalt, which went for 27 yards. The news on Wilson wasn't as positive, as it was learned later on last week that 'Tez will miss the rest of the 2009 season with a neck injury. This is particularly disturbing news for the Illini, as Wilson was one of the rising start on defense and was just coming into his potential as a linebacker. Normally, a win against Illinois State should be a slam dunk, but give the Redbirds credit for not backing down against the more powerful Illini.
Ron Zook liked the bye week exactly where it fell this year for the Illini. Nestled in the third week of the college football season, between a matchup against an in-state rival and the conference opener against aforementioned Ohio State (2:30 pm, ABC Regional television), the rest gave Zook and his players time to rest up, heal up, and get ready to take on the Buckeyes, a team that they have had some success against in recent years. As a matter of fact, just 2 years ago, the Illini went into Columbus and knocked off the top-ranked Buckeyes 28-21 to propel them to the Rose Bowl. It seems that the Illinois always gets up for the Buckeyes, especially over at The 'Shoe, but this one will be more of a monumental task than the previous one. First of all, Ohio State still has Terrelle Pryor, the dual threat quarterback that has still not reached his potential. Second, the Buckeyes are playing decent football, although they needed a miracle to beat Navy and lost to then #3 USC 18-15. That being said, the Illini haven't exactly been impressing the masses thus far in the season either. Something tells me that this trip to Columbus won't be as pleasant as the last few have been. I hope I am wrong.
The Illini women's soccer team has completed their non-conference portion of the season with a 5-3-1 record, which would seem not very impressive to most. However, it was a very tough pre-Big 10 slate, with the losses coming to UCLA at home, and Portland and Washington on the road. The Illini got back in the win column with a 3-1 win over Milwaukee on Sunday as Shayla Mutz recorded 2 goals to help the Illini to victory. Coach Janet Rayfield and the Illini will begin Big 10 play this coming Sunday when they host Minnesota (1:00 pm, Big Ten Network). The Illini women's volleyball team also have completed their pre-conference schedule, and they escaped with a 9-1 mark, the only blemish coming at the hands of Florida State in the New Mexico State Tournament earlier in the month. Coach Kevin Hambly has the Illini back to prominence, ranked #14 in the latest poll. The conference season begins this weekend for the Illini, with a pair of matches against Ohio State on Friday night and undefeated and top ranked Penn State on Saturday evening. The match against the Nittany Lions will be televised on the Big Ten Network. Both matches begin at 7:00 pm at Huff Hall.
Speaking of Coach Hambly and the volleyball team, there is still time to pick up your free tickets to "Spike The Record"on Friday, October 16, featuring the Illini against Minnesota and former Illini coach Mike Hebert. The doors will open for the event at 5:30 with the volleyball match beginning at 6:30. But, that is just half of the fun for the night. Immediately following the volleyball game, the Illini men's and women's basketball teams will unveil their squads for the 2009-2010 season. Tickets are available around the Champaign-Urbana area, as well as a limited number of tickets at the WGCY studios.
News and notes around the men's basketball program are starting to heat up as the start of practice draws closer. Freshman Joseph Bertrand had surgery on his knee and is expected to be out a few weeks while he recuperates. Everyone else seems to be healthy, something that Coach Bruce Weber hopes continues into the season and beyond.