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, November 18, 2009

Well, that was short lived, now wasn't it? The Fighting Illini football team, needing to win out in order to attain bowl eligibility, couldn't get past the Northwestern Wildcats last Saturday at Memorial Stadium, falling 21-16. As a result, the Illini will be staying home for the holidays once again, and can do no better than match their 5-7 record a year ago. That task seems even monumental, since the Illini's next opponent is the Cincinnati Bearcats, who are in the thick of the BCS chase and are undefeated at 10-0. That in itself will be a tall order, but added to the fact that is at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, and the situation becomes that much tougher. To look back, if we must, to the Northwestern game, once again, it was a winnable game. Juice Williams sat this one out with an injury, so redshirt freshman Jacob Charest got the start. He didn't fare that badly, moving the Illini down the field. It certainly wasn't his fault that Matt Eller missed a chip shot field goal. It's been that kind of a year for Ron Zook and the Illini, and the two game winning streak just sparked Illini Nation's hopes for what was to come. Thanks to some quality scheduling by the athletic director, the Illini once again have another bye week and are done with Big Ten play for the year. The only two games left on the schedule are the aforementioned Cincinnati game, and the final home contest, December 5th against Fresno State. Since there won't be anything to play for in that game, word on the street has it that tickets could be very cheap for that one. So, if you have ever wanted to attend an Illini football game, but were driven away because of the high prices of tickets, then this game could be for you! Stub Hub is advertising tickets for a low as 99 cents, which is a deal in anybody's world. Just goes to show you how far this program has fallen.

The freshman class for Bruce Weber has been a much talked about group, and if the first two games of the regular season are any indication, then this is going to be quite a season. After getting by SIU Edwardsville 96-69 in the opener last week, the Illini returned to action on Tuesday evening against Northern Illinois, and came away with a 80-61 victory. Brandon Paul, or BP3 for short (pictured at right), has been the talk of the season thus far, setting a record for a freshman making his debut in scoring with 22 against SIUe, then following it up with 20 against the Huskies. Paul scored all of those 20 points in the first half, then decided to work on his defensive tactics in the second half and went scoreless. One thing has been evident about this freshman class: these guys can play. Paul can shoot the ball as well as anybody, and D. J. Richardson is getting good command of the floor and also can shoot the ball pretty well. Tyler Griffey, who has impressed early on, reminds me of a shorter version of Jack Ingram. Griffey can shoot from the outside, and is beginning to work inside as well. The fourth member of the class, Joseph Bertrand, is battling an injury and his status for this season is still up in the air. Since you have a while to declare a medical redshirt, I think that is what the staff is waiting on at this point. With the Illini sitting at 2-0 on the season, the next stop on the road is the Las Vegas Invitational, with the first two games of the tourney starting out at the Assembly Hall. The Illini's first opponent will be the Presbyterian Blue Hose (7:00 pm, Saturday 11/21 Big Ten Network).

So, what exactly is a Blue Hose? The Presbyterian College website defines a Blue Hose as "fierce Scottish warrior. If you have ever seen the movie Braveheart, then you have seen a true Blue Hose." That's not what I had pictured at all (see right). And no, it's not what a female smurf wears when she goes out for a night on the town. Anyway, Presbyterian College comes to Champaign this weekend in their first season making the transition from Division II to the top level in college athletics. Typically, the results aren't pretty for teams making this jump for the first couple of years, but they eventually become what are known as "mid-majors" and dangerous teams in the NCAA Tournament. They even get featured on ESPN in early February when the "Bracket Busters" matchups are played out.

The women's basketball team is out to a fast 2-1 start, and are putting points up on the board at a pace not seen by the females at Illinois in quite some time. After a season opening overtime loss to Temple in Philadelphia, the Illini have won the last 2 games over Siena (85-53) and Central Michigan (77-59). Jenna Smith and Lacey Simpson continue to lead the Illini as seniors normally do, but Coach Jolette Law has a talented bunch of freshmen herself that can play with the best of them. Adrienne Godbold, Karisma Penn, Brianna Jones, and Kersten Magrum give Law depth, something that she has not had since becoming the coach at Illinois. However, the good news comes with some not-so-good news as well. Amber Moore, one of the talented freshmen, is gone for the year with an ACL injury sustained in the opener against Temple, and Destiny Williams, perhaps the jewel of the recruiting class, has taken a indefinite leave of absence from the team, according to a statement given by Law before the game with Central Michigan. Under Law's predecessor, Theresa Grentz, this type of behavior was the norm rather than the exception, but any way you look at this situation with Williams, it doesn't appear to be good. Who knows when, or if she will ever play for the Illini again. We do know one thing, it won't be soon. The Illini get back into action on Sunday afternoon when they host Bradley at the Assembly Hall.

Finally, the Illini women's volleyball team survived their tough road trip last weekend, and as expected, saw their 11 match win streak snapped at the hands of Penn State. When you go up against the Nittany Lions, your best needs to be given for every single play. The Illini were defeated in 3 games by scores of 20-25, 25-27, and 15-25, and can take away that at least they took Penn State to overtime in the second game. The Illini righted the ship on Sunday by dispatching Ohio State in 4 games (25-17, 25-8,18-25,25-21) to move to 21-4 overall and 13-3 in Big Ten play. The Illini conclude the home portion of the regular season this coming weekend at Huff Hall when they welcome Iowa and Wisconsin. Both matches begin at 7:00 pm on Friday and Saturday.

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