Looking at my blog posts from the past, I have come to discover that this entry will be post #100. A lot has happened since the first post, and I hope I have entertained and informed you with my insight on all things Illini. So, on to this week's banter.
Things are beginning to improve on the football field with Ron Zook's crew, and although the last two victories have been against in-state schools, it is, nonetheless, a start. With the 35-3 win over Southern Illinois a week ago, the Illini began to regain some of the momentum that it lost when they were defeated by Missouri. Then, last Saturday, the Illini had to withstand a late rally by the Northern Illinois Huskies to squeak out a 28-22 win at Memorial Stadium. The Illini haven't started out with a winning record since the 2008 Rose Bowl season, so anything positive is good news. Both the offense and defensive units seem to be improving, and coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning appear to be getting their respective squads in check. Despite several injuries over the past few weeks, the health of the team is also improving, and it seems that Terry Hawthorne will be ready for Ohio State when they come to Champaign in two weeks. That certainly is good news for Koenning and his defense, who has been shuffling players in and out of the secondary since he went down. In fact, Jack Ramsey, who switched to defense due to the losses of Hawthorne and Supo Sanni, has switched back to wide receiver.
In the win over Northern Illinois, some old habits cropped back up, and other persistent issues became more evident as the season shifts into Big Ten mode. Once again, the tight end was not utilized, and not one ball was thrown their way. One of the things that Petrino stressed before the season was that he would throw their direction more, something his predecessor, Mike Schultz didn't do much of. Not sure the reason why, other than they weren't open or were being used to block on the line for Mikel Leshoure to do his damage. Leshoure scampered for 180 yards on 24 carries, proving that the Illini like to get it to their workhorse, or as Petrino refers to it as "FTS" (Feed The Studs). Some quick observations regarding quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase through the first 3 games have been a mixed bag. Yes, he is a good scrambler and can gain yards in bunches that way, but upon further review, it has come to my attention that he is Juice Williams without the arm strength. Juice could throw the ball down the field and so far this season, Scheelhaase has not proven that he can do the same. The next stretch of games beginning with Ohio State (Saturday, October 2nd, 11:00 am) are crucial to making this happen, as those teams will be keying on the run and forcing Scheelhaase to pass. I think that the Illini can stay with Ohio State, but how long depends on the success of moving the ball against the Buckeyes. They can score points in bunches, and the defense will need to step up in a big way in order to keep the Illini in the game. With the Illini enjoying their bye week this coming weekend, it gives the team a chance to heal some of those injuries and get healthier before Ohio State comes calling.
The stage is set for one of the biggest volleyball matches in recent memory this Friday evening at Huff Hall. The Illini will attempt to set an attendance record as they get closer to "History at Huff" when the #5 ranked Illini welcome #2 Penn State. The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics has sold 1500 general admission tickets for the match, including selling tickets online for the first time for a volleyball match. The Illini have not had a sellout at Huff since 1992, and if ever there was an occasion to surpass that feat, then this is the time to do it. The Illini have had an up and down week leading up to the important match, losing in 5 games to Cincinnati and defeating Louisville in 4 games in the Big East/Big Ten Challenge last weekend in Louisville, Kentucky. The Illini have been without outside hitter Laura DeBruler for the past few matches, due to her having mononucleosis. They are set to get DeBruler back for the big match against the Nittany Lions. Here's hoping she is ready for the challenge and can stop Penn State's 65 match winning streak in the Big Ten that spans the past 3 seasons.
The stage is set for this week's activities. Here's to another 100 posts!