Ok, admit it. Who saw that coming last Saturday? The Fighting Illini football team, who had pretty much been left for dead after a dreadful 1-6 start, actually showed a pulse against Michigan, a school that Illini fans never tire of seeing go down to defeat. However, this game doesn't go in the win column if not for a heroic effort by a true freshman. The first half of the game with the Wolverines was pretty much the same old story, a fast start by the Illini to take an early lead, followed by a drought in scoring that lasted into the half with a 13-7 deficit. What happened next could only be thought of as pure instinct. Michigan was driving for yet another score on a long pass play from quarterback Tate Forcier to receiver Roy Roundtree. Freshman Terry Hawthorne, from East St. Louis, began pursuit of Roundtree, and caught him just before he crossed the goal line. Michigan challenged the call that he was down at the 1 yard line, and it was upheld, so Michigan had 4 cracks at the touchdown from the 1 yard line. The Illini defense held 4 straight plays, and the Illini then put together a 99 yard drive, capped off by a long touchdown run by Mikel Leshoure to give the Illini a lead that they never would give up. Earlier in the week, some of the veterans on the team had called out the underclassmen, saying that they weren't playing hard and had given up on the season. The inspirational play by Hawthorne tells me two things: First, he had the speed to run down the ball carrier, or at least try, and second, he was going to prove that he wasn't one of those players that had thrown in the proverbial towel. The Illini never gave up another point the rest of the afternoon, and cruised to their first Big Ten victory of the season 38-13. This was the second time in successive years that Illinois had defeated Michigan, and the first time since 1983 that they won at home. (We all know what happened that year, don't we?)
It's funny how one win can turn the mood of some fans. Last week, everyone was pretty much calling for Ron Zook's head (some still are, by the way), but since the Illini beat Michigan, all of a sudden some people think hope has been restored and a simple win-out strategy will put the Illini at 6-6 and in contention for a bowl game. Let me assess what this means, exactly. For this to happen, the Illini will have to do the following: Beat Minnesota in Minneapolis, Northwestern and Fresno State at home, and Cincinnati on the road. Best case scenario in this 4 game season is a break even point. I don't think that the Illini can win against Minnesota, or in Cincinnati for that matter. The other two games are winnable, which should put the record at 4-8 if they're lucky.
The Illini's opponent this week, Minnesota (11:00 am, Big Ten Network), can become bowl eligible with a win over the Illini, but will have to do so without one of its star receivers. Eric Decker will miss the remainder of the regular season with a foot injury, but that didn't seem to stop the Gophers last Saturday against Michigan State, as they racked up over 500 yards of offense, led by quarterback Adam Weber, who had 416 passing yards and 5 touchdowns. Added to the trip will be playing in a brand new venue, TCF Bank Stadium, which is outdoors, compared to the Metrodome. This will also be the first game on the campus of Minnesota, as the Metrodome was located downtown Minneapolis. I'm not saying that the Illini can't beat the Gophers, I just don't think it is likely.
Bruce Weber's basketball team continues practice, leading up to their second and final exhibition game against Quincy University Sunday afternoon at the Assembly Hall. These exhibition games are meant to give smaller schools a chance to showcase their talents at a big name school, and also for a handsome payday for most. But, judging what happened to Syracuse the other night, losing to Lemoyne at home, the smaller schools get up for these games. Let's just not hope that Illinois becomes one of those victims.
The Illini women's volleyball team continued their winning ways by defeating both Indiana and Purdue on the road, and in the process, vaulted in the latest AVCA rankings to #5. This weekend, the Illini play host to Michigan on Friday night, and Michigan State on Saturday evening. However, they suffered a huge loss off the court earlier in the week when it was determined that libero Ashley Edinger will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury. This will be a true test of their mettle, as Ohio State and Penn State await the following weekend on the road. The Illini own a record of 18-3 overall and 10-2 in the Big Ten and are in the midst of a 9 match winning streak.
The Illini women's soccer team is coming off a weekend of mixed results, winning convincingly over Michigan State 5-0, but falling to Michigan 1-0, both matches taking place at the Illini Soccer Complex. The Illini outshot the Wolverines 21-4, but could'nt find the back of the net. The Illini will close out the regular season this Friday night at Northwestern and carry a record of 7-8-3 overall and 2-5-2 in Big Ten play.