The Tim Beckman era began in style last Saturday in Champaign, resulting in a 24-7 victory over the Western Michigan Broncos at Memorial Stadium. But what exactly did we learn from the win? Certainly it appears that the defense has left off from where it was last season, despite not having one of the stalwarts from that unit in Whitney Mercilus, who left a year early for the NFL. The defensive unit had 4 takeaways on the day, including an interception by Michael Buchanan, who will undoubtedly follow in Mercilus' footsteps to the NFL next season. There was also an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Ashante Williams. another good sign. Offensively, the news wasn't as good. It certainly started off promising, as Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase connected with wide receiver Ryan Lankford for a 64 yard touchdown in the game's opening few minutes. After that play, however, the offense resembled one more suited for former coach Ron Zook, and not Beckman. The news would get progressively worse for the Illini during the second half, as Scheelhaase would leave the game with an apparent ankle injury, giving way to sophomore Reilly O'Toole to guide the offense the remainder of the way. Miles Osei, who was converted to a wideout during the Camp Rantoul workouts, would come into the game for the final few minutes to run out the clock and preserve the victory. It was no secret that the offensive line was inexperienced, and up until the final few days leading up to the first game, undecided as to who would exactly start where. Beckman is notorious for not tipping his hand in regards to information, especially if he knows that the opposing team could possible use that knowledge to their advantage during the game. Beckman knew that Western Michigan would know his scheme pretty well, since he spent the last three years coaching against them at Toledo. One thought possibly is that Beckman was not letting too much out of the bag for the Illini's next opponent, which is Arizona State on Saturday evening in Tempe, Arizona (9:30 pm CT, ESPN). This will be a stern test for the Illini, since it is their first game on the road, as well as on the west coast, where the Illini haven't had the best of luck in the regular season in the past few years. The Sun Devils won their opening game as well, routing Northern Arizona 63-6 on Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium, behind a balanced attack on offense. The Sun Devils rushed for 305 yards, while passing for 249 yards. Gone is quarterback Brock Oswiler, and the new signal caller, Taylor Kelly, completed 15 of 19 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown. This is obviously not as talented a team as the one that came to Champaign last season, but it is on the road and in a hostile environment, so nobody really knows what will happen. I suspect that if Scheelhaase is good enough to play on Saturday night, then the Illini will probably be favored. Then again, nobody will know what the result will be, since Beckman will keep the verdict to himself up until kickoff. Stay tuned.
Kevin Hambly's Fighting Illini volleyball team has had an auspicious beginning to their season, losing their first two matches of the season in Dayton, Ohio, before coming back to defeat Ohio University to salvage one match in the opening weekend. The Illini then hosted Iowa State in a rare two match series, winning one and losing one. But don't let the 2-3 record fool you. The Illini are still a talented squad that have a lot of potential as the season wears on. The Illini will be back in action this weekend in Cincinnati when they take part in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge against host Cincinnati and also Louisville.
Much better news on the soccer front, as Janet Rayfield's team is off to a 3-1-1 start to the 2012 season. Wins over Western Michigan, UC-Santa Barbara and Milwaukee have propelled the Illini to a promising beginning. The Illini will be in action as well this weekend, when they travel east to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to battle Virginia Tech and host Wake Forest.
Even though the calendar says it is fall, basketball season is not far off, and the schedules for both John Groce's men's team and Matt Bollant's women's team have been announced. Highlights of the men's schedule include trips to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational and to Spokane, Washington to take on Gonzaga. The Illini's annual trips to St. Louis and Chicago are also on the docket, as is the Big 10/ACC Challenge against Georgia Tech at the Assembly Hall. The women will make Assembly Hall their home for a good portion of the non-conference season, only playing away from home three times between October and January.
Fall sports season is here, and it's time to get after it!