Is the coach to blame? Ron Zook has never been known as a good game management coach, and this year that is really beginning to show signs of validity. Some of the decisions that Zook has made in the last two games really make one shake their head. From admitting to not knowing what the score was at Indiana when he elected to go for 2 points to punting on 4th down at the Purdue 33 when the Illini were down by two scores, Zook has really made people stop and think about what might be going on in his head. It seemed that things were looking up when he turned over the offense and defense to Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning, respectively last season, but Zook still is in charge of the special teams, and that is one of the many issues that this team has. Normally Illini Nation would be happy with a 6-2 record, given the limited success that this program has sustained over the years. It doesn't get any easier for the Illini, as they travel to Penn State on Saturday to battle the Nittany Lions (2:30 pm CT, ABC). Penn State comes into the game with the Illini at 7-1 overall and atop the Leaders Division of the Big Ten at 4-0. Their only loss has been to #2 Alabama. Of course, their schedule has been relatively weak up until now, and after the game on Saturday, they finish up with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Are the fans to blame? You have to wonder why a team that came into the Ohio State game 6-0 couldn't sell Memorial Stadium out, but I think a couple factors are at play here. First of all, Illini fans are taking the "wait and see" approach, and now that they have lost a couple of games, the chances of getting a sellout for the final two games are diminished somewhat. Another possible factor could be the stagnant economy. A lot of fans simply don't want to delve out the money to see this team play lesser opponents, ones that only lost by a scant few points. But, you really cannot pin the blame on the fans, because they are not the ones out there on the field. Yes, some are critical, but they have that right to do so.
Are the players to blame? For the most part, the players are the ones that are out there on the field trying to do what the coaches tell them to do. As I mentioned before, the special teams units have been brutal this season, and were it for a couple of plays that would have gone the other way, maybe one of those losses could have been adverted. There is no clear cut leader that has stepped up and taken control, which is what you need to have success in a program. Zook mentioned a few weeks ago that the team needs to understand how to deal with winning. Judging from the past couple of games, I don't believe that it is going very well at the moment.
The Fighting Illini volleyball team saw their winning streak come to an end last Saturday night, when they were defeated in 4 sets by Nebraska in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers were #4 in the country, and very tough at home, so the Illini losing wasn't a total shock. This will almost guarantee that the Illini will lose their top ranking when the new poll comes out. The Illini return home this weekend to begin the second half of the Big Ten season when they host Wisconsin on Friday night and Minnesota on Saturday. The Illini are currently 20-1 overall and 9-1 in conference play.
The Illini women's soccer team continues to win, and their current streak is up to 7 now, by virtue of a pair of wins over Northwestern (3-0) and Nebraska (3-1). The Illini have secured a second place finish in the conference no matter how the final weekend shapes up with the wins. The Illini are currently 13-4-1 overall and 7-2-1 in the Big Ten, and will conclude the regular season on Friday evening when they host Michigan for Senior Night.
The Fighting Illini basketball team held their annual Orange and Blue Scrimmage last Sunday afternoon at the Assembly Hall. Due to another engagement, I wasn't able to attend, but from what I heard about it, the team looked pretty good. This will be a very young and inexperienced team, so expectations shouldn't be too high as the season begins. Earlier on Wednesday in practice, freshman Devin Langford broke his finger, and after surgery, will miss approximately 4-6 weeks. Langford was a redshirt candidate to begin with, so this may be the "break" that he needs to get that elusive medical redshirt. The regular season tips off next Tuesday night when the Illini take on Wayne State in the first of two exhibition games.