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, September 14, 2011

Offense was the name of the game last Saturday, as the Fighting Illini totally dominated their guests from South Dakota State, en route to a 56-3 drubbing of the Jackrabbits at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. South Dakota State, who is a FCS school (Division 1-AA), never really stood a chance on the afternoon, as the Illini pretty much had their way with the Jackrabbits. A win like this gives Coach Ron Zook a chance to play some of his younger players, most notably the ones whose redshirts were removed in the first game of the season. With quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase getting some much deserved rest after the game was well under control, it was time for Zook to see what sophomore Miles Osei and true freshman Reilly O'Toole could do. O'Toole completed all 9 of his passes for 50 yards, including his first touchdown pass to tight end Evan Wilson. Not to be mistaken, this is Scheelhaase's team, and only a catastrophic collapse or an injury will get O'Toole significant playing time. However, O'Toole has proven that he can step in if needed. The Illini racked up 364 yards on the ground, led by an unsung hero named Troy Pollard. Pollard rushed for 101 yards on just 8 carries, while Scheelhaase had 93 yards on the ground. Freshman Donovonn Young, who looks to have a load of potential, had 65 yards rushing, but more importantly, scored 2 touchdowns, including a nifty 41 yard run for a score in the second quarter.

The win on Saturday lifted the Illini to 2-0 on the young season, the first time that they have started out with 2 wins in the their first two games since the 2005 season. Something that is a bit of a concern though is the attendance for the first two games. With the first game being over Labor Day Weekend and last week's game against a lesser opponent, it wasn't a surprise that the stands were not entirely full. The fandom will need to be won back, and this will be achieved by winning games. With 8 home games on the schedule, the opportunity to get off to a really good start is certainly there, and 2 games in, the Illini are making the most of that chance. However, the schedule gets a bit tougher this week, when the Illini welcome the Sun Devils of Arizona State to Memorial Stadium for a prime time matchup under the lights (Saturday, 6:00 pm, BTN). Arizona State comes into the matchup with the Illini at 2-0 as well, but slipped into the national rankings after defeating Missouri 37-30 last Friday night in Tempe. The Sun Devils have a potent offense, led by their quarterback Brock Oswiler, who is a monster that stands 6'8 and weighs 240 pounds. Yes, the Illini have eased through the first two games of the season, but the first real test will be against Arizona State. The key to stopping Oswiler, according to Zook, is to stay in front of him at all times. Besides their quarterback, the Sun Devils also have a very talented linebacker in Vontaze Burfict, who may be the top player in the nation at his position. This should pose quite a matchup between Burfict and Illini fullback Jay Prosch, who are both approximately the same size. The winner of this game will have the inside track to a pretty good season, while the loser will be down, but definitely not out.

The Fighting Illini volleyball team continues their winning ways, and have risen to #3 in the latest AVCA rankings. Kevin Hambly's squad took down Middle Tennessee State, Cal Poly, and Tulsa to take the title in the MTSU Invitational last weekend in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Illini are now 9-0 on the season, and will return home to Huff Hall this weekend to host the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. The Illini will face Cincinnati on Friday evening, while taking on Louisville on Saturday night. Both matches are slated to begin at 7:00 pm. Purdue, whom the Illini will not face in the challenge, will also be involved.

The Illini women's soccer team split a pair of matches last weekend at the LSU Invitational, losing to #11 Pepperdine on Friday night 4-2, then coming back on Sunday to defeat Oregon 5-0. The Illini will begin Big Ten play on Sunday afternoon when they travel to Iowa City to battle the Hawkeyes at 1:00 pm. The Illini are 6-2 on the season, and are ranked #20 in the nation.

Finally this week, Bruce Weber's Illini basketball team may not start practice for another month, but they have been busy on the recruiting trail, landing two players for future classes this week. Junior guard Malcom Hill committed as the second member of the 2013 class, joining Jalen James, who committed a few months ago. Senior guard Michael Orris, who currently plays at Crete-Monee, verballed to Weber just one day earlier. With a young group of players this coming season, the future is once again looking bright for Illini basketball for the next several years. One only hopes that the talent can live up to the expectations.

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