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.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Hooray! It's Spring!

No offense, but that Illini spring football game on Saturday was less than a stellar affair. All the hype building up during spring practice regarding the new coaches and their respective regimes finally was able to be seen, and if the performance on the field is anything reminiscent of what will take place in the fall, then some people have cause for worry. Gone are Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn, who are trying to ply their trades at the next level (more on this later on), and with the new coaching staff comes some new players as well. Starting at the quarterback position, Nathan Scheelhaase looks to be the person that will take the baton and carry on as the season begins in August. Scheelhaase ran plays with the first team offense, and while his numbers looked okay (11-2o, 126 yards passing), his perfomance stated otherwise. Scheelhaase threw two interceptions, and at times, was left scrambling in the backfield. It is apparent that Scheelhaase has the potential to be a good quarterback, but his trademark is his arm, and that was never really utilized during the game. His counterpart on the other side, Jacob Charest, was much worse, only completing 2 passes in 8 attempts for just 15 yards. Charest was sidelined for a good portion of the game with an ankle injury, which gave incoming freshman Chandler Whitmer a chance to get some action. Charest also threw two interceptions, and mis-handled a snap late in the ball game. Whitmer completed 7 of his 8 passes for 43 yards, including a 1o yard touchdown reception to Eddie Viliunas as time expired. Even though the quarterbacks were "off-limits" during the game, as evidenced by the white jerseys, Whitmer was in position to get sacked several times. On the ground, the result was much better and more encouraging, as Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford led the way with 129 and 99 yards, respectively. Leshoure, who carried the ball 12 times, scored twice, including a 75 yard scamper that had to please Zook. Ford, who just had 6 carries, scored once on a 56 yard run down the sidelines. So much for the change in offensive structure.

But we had to see this coming, didn't we? As last season ended, the recruits started to de-commit, and even some of the players on the roster either left school or asked to be released from their scholarships. One such player was wide receiver A. J. Jenkins, who apparently had seen enough of what was going on and wanted his release. When Paul Petrino was hired as the offensive, it must have been enough to sway Jenkins to stay put. Good thing, On Saturday, Jenkins caught 6 passes for 95 yards, and may have jumped into the role of leading receiver. All this from a guy who was as good as gone a few short months ago. The crowd, which was announced as just under 6,000, looked a lot smaller, and the weather forecast was probably the blame for more fans not attending. The outlook doesn't look that good for 2o1o, but with some luck, this team may be lucky to win the 6 games it needs to become bowl eligible. A favorable non-conference schedule might be the saving grace, because the way the team is right now, they are not ready for what the Big Ten may throw at them.

Football at Wrigley Field? It's official! The Illini will play Northwestern at the Friendly Confines on Saturday, November 20, in the first football game to be held in the park since the Bears last played there nearly 50 years ago. The game, which will actually be a home game for the Wildcats, is sure to be a big draw and will also be a hot commodity for television, so look for a major network to pick the game up. Let's just hope that the teams warrant such exposure.

The NFL Draft has come and gone, and several Fighting Illini players were drafted and will try and take their game to the next level. Benn was taken in the second round (pick #39) by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which was a bit disappointing for Regus, who thought he might go higher. A player that wasn't upset with his pick was Jon Asamoah, who was drafted in the third round (pick #68) by the Kansas City Chiefs. Asamoah almost sounded giddy on his teleconference, saying that this was a dream come true, although when he entered college at Illinois, didn't realistically think that this was ever an option. Finally, the final Illini player taken in the draft was Bloomington Central Catholic product Michael Hoomanawanui, who was selected by the St. Louis Rams in the 5th round (pick #132). Several players that went undrafted signed free agent contracts after the conclusion of the draft. Juice Williams signed with the Bears, wide receiver Jeff Cumberland signed on with the New York Jets, Daniel Dufrene signed with the New York Giants, and Chris Duvalt inked with the Seattle Seahawks. Once team mini-camps begin, it remains to be seen how far some of these players will continue on with these teams.

Finally, not to be left out, the Illini basketball team made some news over the past couple of weeks with a couple of players declaring for the NBA Draft. No surprise was Demetri McCamey, who has been toying with the idea for quite some time, but more peculiar was junior Mike Davis, who also declared. Neither player has hired an agent, so if they don't like what they are hearing about their draft prospects, they can return to school in the fall and resume their careers with Illinois. More on this later.