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, November 2, 2011

Good time for a bye week?

The spiral continues for the Fighting Illini football team, as they dropped their third consecutive game, this time to Penn State 10-7 during a snowstorm that plagued the eastern United States last Saturday at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. After the 6-0 start, which now seems like a distant memory, the Illini are now 6-3 and have an extra week to think about the loss to the Nittany Lions and also to prepare for their next game, a home contest against the Michigan Wolverines. The offense, which looked pretty good earlier in the season, seems non-existent at the moment, and Saturday was no exception. Jason Ford did rush for 100 yards on 24 carries, while quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tallied 89 yards on the ground. Scheelhaase only completed 9 of 16 passes for 63 yards in the brutal weather conditions, but one of those passes was good for a touchdown to Spencer Harris. The Illini seemingly was driving to win the game late, but instead got into field goal range and tried to tie it with a kick by Derek Dimke. But, the attempt hit the crossbar, sending the Illini once again to defeat. This brings the Illini to their bye week, which probably couldn't come at a better time. It will give the Illini an opportunity to think about the last few weeks and then regroup for the stretch run, which is far from easy. They have 3 games left, including home contests against Michigan and Wisconsin, before ending the regular season Thanksgiving weekend at Minnesota. The first two games will be longshots to win, and since Minnesota beat Iowa last weekend, the Gophers will have much more to play for when they face the Illini in Minneapolis. Minnesota will not qualify for a bowl game, and will have nothing to lose when they take on the Illini. That will be, in essence, their bowl game. The Illini had better be aware of that fact and prepare accordingly, or else you might be looking at 6-6. Such a contrast to the view of the season just a few weeks earlier.

Bruce Weber's Illini basketball team began exhibition play on Tuesday night, and not surprisingly, it was a bit of a struggle. Faced with quite a few new players this season, and also a couple injuries to deal with, the Illini were not at full strength. Transfer Sam Maniscalco, who came from Bradley, sat out this game because his surgically repaired ankle has been bothering him as of late, paving the way for freshman Tracy Abrams to run the offense from the point guard position. Fellow freshman Devin Langford also sat out the game, due to a broken finger sustained in practice last week. A late scratch was Mychael Henry, who injured himself in practice on Monday, did not play as well. Then, there is the latest disciplinary case involving Crandall Head. Stemming from an incident that happened in the off-season, Head has been suspended for the first four games, including the exhibition contests, for what Weber commonly calls "not taking care of his business". This could mean anything from not going to class, to a number of other issues. Apparently Weber is not freeing himself of these issues, given all the headaches that Jereme Richmond caused in his one season in Champaign last season. As for the game, sophomore Meyers Leonard led the way for the Illini with 18 points, as they defeated Wayne State (Nebraska) 79-51 at the Assembly Hall. I was particularly impressed with two freshmen, Nnanna Egwu and Mike Shaw. Egwu moves up and down the court as good as I've seen a big man do in an awfully long time, and as far as Shaw goes, he has tremendous potential. This team will take their lumps on occasion, but I do think that they will end up surprising some people as well. They finish up the exhibition portion of the season next Monday night, when they welcome Quincy University to the Assembly Hall, a game that is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 pm.

Since the Illini women's volleyball team lost their #1 ranking at Nebraska two weeks ago, Kevin Hambly's squad has dropped 2 of their last 3 matches, the latest setback to Purdue 3-1 on Wednesday night in West Lafayette. Hambly has discovered that life on the road in the Big Ten is tough, especially when teams are out for you. The Illini are currently 21-3 overall and 10-3 in the conference, and will travel to Bloomington, Indiana on Saturday evening to attempt to get back on the winning track. Game time with the Hoosiers is set for 6:00 pm central time.

It's postseason time for the Illini women's soccer team, as they are currently involved in the Big Ten Tournament. The Illini defeated Michigan in the regular season finale last weekend in Champaign, and advanced in the opening round of the tourney with a win on penalty kicks over Ohio State in Evanston. The Illini will play at 1:15 pm central time on Friday against Michigan State, a match that will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

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