Here's a quick question to ponder for this week. What is the difference between the Fighting Illini football team and a dollar bill? Give up? You can get four quarters out of a dollar bill! That statement couldn't have been more evident last Saturday, as the Illini put forth a valiant effort at Wisconsin for three quarters, before once again faltering down the stretch to lose 31-14 to the Badgers. The defense looked stable for the balance of the game, except for the final 15:00, in which there was a breakdown as the Badgers went to Montee Ball on the ground to put the game out of reach. The Illini got on the board first to take a 7-0 lead, and went into the locker room at halftime feeling good about themselves tied at 7 apiece. The third quarter was more of the same, as the Badgers tacked on a field goal to take a slim 10-7 lead, and then the fourth quarter happened. Ball took over in the final stanza, scoring two touchdowns on the ground, while true freshman quarterback Joel Stave hit Jared Abbrederis on a 59 yard pass play for another score. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had two scores on the day, taking it in from 5 yards out for the game's initial score, and then hitting receiver Ryan Lankford for an 8 yard touchdown down the stretch to at least make the score respectable. Scheelhaase finished the day completing 18 of 29 passes for 178 yards and the score, while taking the honors being the Illini's leading rusher with 84 yards on 22 carries and a score as well. There has been some rumblings as of late from the Illini players about the choice of plays being run on offense, and there has also been some clamoring about not opening up the playbook more. After all, what is Tim Beckman saving these plays for? The Illini are 2-4 overall and 0-2 in the Leaders Division of the Big Ten, and in serious danger of seeing their two year bowl streak come to a screeching halt. But were the signs of a collapse of this magnitude there when the season started? I have mentioned here before that while the defense lost Whitney Mercilus to the NFL last season, they still had guys like Michael Buchanan, Jonathan Brown and Terry Hawthorne returning from a unit that was adequate a year ago. Even though the Illini lost the last six regular season games in 2011, the defense kept them in most of those games and a couple of them could have gone the other way if a couple of plays were reversed. This could be a lingering hangover from that collapse last season, and I still think it is not fair to place all of the blame on Beckman for this season. After all, he is using the players that Ron Zook brought to the program, and we all know what kind of a coach the Zooker was. It doesn't get any easier for the Illini this weekend, as they travel to the Big House in Ann Arbor to face the Michigan Wolverines (2:30 pm CT, ABC). The Wolverines are 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the Legends Division of the Big Ten, and feature one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in all of college football in Denard Robinson. Robinson can hurt you with his feet just as easy as his arm, and even though the Illini held him in check a year ago in Champaign, keeping him down this time will be a tall order. The Illini come into the game a huge underdog, at least three touchdowns by some accounts. There is not much hope of the Illini righting the ship this weekend, but stranger things have happened in Ann Arbor in the past. I guess that is why they play the games.
There was a lot of press given to Beckman and his little chewing tobacco incident before the Wisconsin game. A secondary violation, Beckman admits that it is a bad habit that he has and they he won't let it be a distraction again. Besides, Beckman has much larger problems to worry about right now with his team going down the proverbial drain before his very eyes. True, he shouldn't have even done it in the first place, let alone on national television, but in this day and age of social media and cameras being everywhere, nothing is considered private any more, especially someone in the spotlight such as Beckman.
With football season at the midway point of the season, some people in Illini Nation are beginning to turn their attention to the hardwood to see what new coach John Groce has in store for the Illini this season. The Illini held their annual media day activities on Wednesday, and Groce met the press for the first time as new coach. With practice scheduled to begin on Friday, everyone is chomping at the bit to get started, including seniors Brandon Paul, D. J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey. The Illini lost a significant piece of their team last season, when Meyers Leonard left for the NBA after his sophomore season. Groce knows that replacing Leonard will be a tall order (no pun intended), but feels that he has three capable bodies that should be able to shoulder the load. Sophomores Nnanna Egwu and Ibby Djimde will be two of those players that will be trying to replace Leonard, as well as the aforementioned Griffey. Newcomer Sam McLaurin, who transferred from Coastal Carolina, is another big body that could fill that spot if needed. McLaurin took advantage of the new rule that allows a player to transfer to another school without penalty if that school has a graduate program that is of the student's interest. If you remember, Sam Maniscalco took advantage of that rule last season, coming in from Bradley. Groce also is aware that ball handling could be an issue, and is relying on sophomore Tracy Abrams to do the bulk of the point guard duties. However, Paul and Richardson will be asked to do their share as well, especially since they both have both been in that position before. Your first chance to see the 2012-13 Illini in action will be on Monday, October 22nd, when they participate in the annual Orange and Blue Scrimmage at the Assembly Hall.
When Illinois volleyball coach Kevin Hambly saw the schedule for the 2012 season, he knew that a chance to repeat as national runner-up would be a tall order. The Illini have been on a recent slide as of late, losing their fourth consecutive match, this time falling to Michigan in three straight game on Wednesday evening in Ann Arbor. This followed a weekend that saw the Illini drop matches to ranked teams, first falling to Ohio State on Friday evening, then taking the top ranked Nittany Lions of Penn State to the limit, losing in 5 games. The Illini will attempt to end the slide this weekend when they travel to East Lansing to battle the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday (5:30 pm, CT, no TV). The Illini are currently 8-9 overall and 2-5 in the Big Ten.
The Illini women's soccer team is having a much better season than their volleyball counterparts, currently sporting a 7-4-2 overall record, with a 4-1-1 conference mark. The Illini have been idle since last Thursday, when they defeated Michigan State 3-2 at the Illini Soccer Stadium. In the win over the Spartans, Vanessa DiBernardo scored a hat trick, and for her efforts, was named the Big Ten player of the week. The Illini head north this weekend, traveling to Minneapolis on Friday evening (7:00 pm CT, no TV), then heading across the border to Wisconsin to Madison to face the Badgers on Sunday afternoon (4:00 pm CT, BTN).