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.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Picking Up The Pieces

     As this 2012 football season moves forward for the Fighting Illini, the questions concerning the team continue to mount.  Witness the beating that the Illini took last Saturday when they were soundly defeated by Louisiana Tech 52-24 at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.  Everyone knew what this Bulldogs team could do offensively, since they had scored 56 points in each of their first two games.  But for Illini coach Tim Beckman, his specialty is defense, and you figured that if the Illini could find a way to hold La. Tech down on offense, then they might have a chance.  It looked good at the start of the game, as the Illini scored first on a pass from Nathan Scheelhaase to Ryan Lankford.  It seemingly looked even better for Illinois near the half, going into the break trailing 21-17.  But, much like last season, turnovers at the wrong time seemed to befall the Illini, as they committed six miscues, including a muffed punt return that Louisiana Tech pounced on in the end zone.  You cannot keep giving teams as good as La. Tech chances and expect to win games.  Thus, the result was the blowout that it was.  It has generated talk around Illini Nation that Beckman may be in for a long season, but the season is only four games old and they are 2-2 heading into the Big Ten portion of the season, which begins this Saturday when the Illini host Penn State (11:00 am CT, ESPN).  Injuries have played a factor in the two losses, but that cannot be viewed as the only reason why the Illini suffered blowouts in both of their setbacks.  Scheelhaase is back, but not quite 100%, as evidenced by Beckman pulling him in the second half last Saturday in favor of Reilly O'Toole, who actually moved the Illini down the field at times.  The offensive line, which was a major concern to begin with, got a little worse with Graham Pocic nursing an injury, and Hugh Thornton suffering an injury of his own in the loss to La. Tech.

     This Saturday's Big Ten opener will be unique in many ways, not only because it will match up coaches in their first conference games of their coaching career, but more remembered for not seeing Joe Paterno on the Penn State sidelines for the first time in 46 years.  Since the scandal broke in Happy Valley, talk has focused on how the Nittany Lions will be received at each school they visit this season.  That topic has taken a place on the back burner for the time being, as the chatter this week has focused on the Illini's two recent blowout losses, and wondering what will happen this week.  Back during the summer, several Illini coaches made a trip out to Penn State to inquire about a player who eventually transferred to Illinois.  That talk has resurfaced this week, fueled mainly by some members of the Penn State media contingent that cannot seem to let well enough alone.  The Nittany Lions continue to be portrayed as the victim in this, and even though the Illini coaches went about the situation the correct and ethical way, there are some that still think that it was underhanded and wrong at what they did.  I say, let the teams decide it on the field and let well enough alone.  Penn State has their own problems to deal with, and will for the forseeable future.

     Don't fault Illini basketball coach John Groce for not landing the latest recruit that he went after, Demetrius Jackson of Mishawauka, Indiana.  After all, Notre Dame, who Jackson ultimately chose over the Illini, had been recruiting the guard since he was a freshman in high school.  Groce came in on the recruitment   late, and since he became head coach at Illinois, Groce has been turning heads with his work ethic in regards to recruiting.  After getting Kendrick Nunn's commitment a week ago, Illini Nation was abuzz with the possibility of landing Jackson or even Xavier Rathan-Mayes, another guard that is near the top of Groce's wish list.  The Rathan-Mayes recruitment is still ongoing, but it is clear that Groce intends to get Illinois back to relevancy sooner rather than later.

     Kevin Hambly's Fighting Illini volleyball team split their matches this past weekend, getting swept by Minnesota on Friday evening before rebounding to defeat Wisconsin in 5 sets on Sunday afternoon.  The Illini, who have endured a very tough schedule to begin the season, enter play this coming weekend at 7-5 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten.  The Illini will make their annual trip through Indiana this weekend, traveling to Bloomington on Friday evening to battle the Indiana Hoosiers (6:00 pm, CT BTN), then will head north from there to West Lafayette on Saturday evening to take on the Boilermakers of Purdue (7:00 pm, CT  BTN).

     The Illini women's soccer team split their matches as well this past weekend, defeating Ohio State 1-0 on Friday night and then dropping a 4-0 contest to #11 ranked Penn State on Sunday afternoon.  The soccer team also make a swing through Indiana this weekend, traveling to Bloomington on Friday night to battle Indiana (6:30 pm CT, No TV), then finishing up their Indiana trip in West Lafayette on Sunday afternoon against Purdue (12:00 CT, No TV).  The Illini are currently 5-4-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten heading into this weekend's action.

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