Well, that was fun, now, wasn't it? The six year football series between Illinois and Missouri is now history, and the Tigers won all six games. This year, the Illini made it close, and for a half and some change, even led Missouri. The Illini, not expected to do much in the game because of a lean recruiting year, injuries to some key defensive players, and an inexperienced quarterback, suprisingly stayed with the Tigers for the better part of the game, but eventually wore down to a more experienced and determined team. Nathan Scheelhaase, who didn't do a terrible job in his first collegiate game, showed he has potential to scramble with the football. Some pundits have referred to him as "Juice Williams Light", or "Juice without the arm", which cannot be viewed as good news. Actually, I think he has a chance to be a special player, but as all college players go, needs some time to get comfortable. Something that was puzzling to me during the game was the inability to throw to the tight end, something that new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino promised they would do. Actually, only 3 receivers were utilized during the game, Eddie McGee, Jarrod Fayson and A. J. Jenkins. Petrino has a stud at the position in freshman Evan Wilson, so his philosophy of FTS (Feeding The Studs) didn't come to fruition. I don't think this was an oversight, but they could have looked his way at least once or twice during the game. When the Illini went into the locker room at the half with the lead, a sense of shock filled the pressbox at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis as to what everyone was witnessing. Could things be different? Former Illini and now Rams rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui arrived during the break and was as surprised as anyone. He stated that he was at Rams practice and had just gotten to the stadium, and was hoping that he didn't bring them bad luck. Well, that is another story altogether.
The running game is not an issue, as Mikel Leshoure carried the ball 20 times for 112, but didn't get in the endzone. The only touchdown the Illini scored was on a 13 yard pass to Jenkins from Scheelhaase that capped off an 8 play, 82 yard drive. The Illini looked decent, sure, but a loss is still a loss, and as Zook said after the game, he is judged by wins and losses, not by how the team looked for a portion of the game. The natives are getting restless, yes, but some of that feeling can subside the next couple of weeks with home victories against in-state schools. These wins are certainly not a given, and a loss in either game will be deemed unacceptable.
Speaking of unacceptable, that can be a good word to describe the actions of bandit defender Michael Buchanan, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Apparently he was out late on Saturday evening and was stopped by campus police for a DUI. Such behavior has been an issue with Illinois athletes over the past few years, and this can only be bad news for a defense that keeps getting thinner by the day. Clay Nurse will step into the bandit position in Buchanan's absence, while Whitney Mercilus will move to the end position vacated by Nurse.
Illinois has a chance to get back on the winning track this Saturday when they host Southern Illinois at Memorial Stadium (6:30 pm, Big Ten Network). The Salukis are a power in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), or what was formerly known as Division 1-AA. SIU put 70 points up on Quincy University in their first game, and while it was a lesser opponent, according to Zook, "it is hard to score 70 points on air". The Salukis have some athletes on their team, and Zook said that there are some players on their roster that he would like to have on his team. They play a different style, and the Illini better be careful or they could be looking at an 0-2 start come late Saturday evening. Imagine how loud the catcalls will be then.
Perhaps the most exciting action on campus right now is taking place in Huff Hall with the Illini volleyball team. Kevin Hambly has his squad playing very well right now, and they are coming off one of the most important wins in the program in recent memory. The Illini spikers went into Austin, Texas last weekend and knocked off the #2 Texas Longhorns. That win moved them up to #3 in the recent poll, and they have another stern test awaiting them this weekend when they travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to play in a tournament involving #20 Dayton, #7 Nebraska, and Western Michigan. If the Illini can come out on top in this tourney, they will be creating momentum for the big showdown on September 24th when top-ranked Penn State comes to Huff Hall. More on this as it becomes available.
The Illini women's soccer team has been having a measure of success as well, going 5-1-1 through their first 7 games of the 2010 season. The Illini will conclude their non-conference road schedule this weekend with a trip to Cincinnati. The fast start by Janet Rayfield's squad has earned them the top ranking in the Great Lakes Region, the first such ranking in the program's history.
More from campus next week.