This 2012 Illini football season is eerily beginning to resemble the one that ended in 2011, and for many reasons, that is not a good sign. When Tim Beckman was hired as head coach of the Illini back in December, he brought with him quite a bit of energy and also promising some up-tempo football. What we have seen thus far couldn't be further from that. The Illini's latest beatdown came at the hands of Penn State last Saturday 35-7, as the same problems that have plagued Illinois the past couple of seasons were very evident once again. In essence, the Illini may have been "Zookered", and at times on Saturday, it looked as if the former coach was once again in charge of the offense and special teams. Early in the Penn State loss, Tommie Davis mishandled a punt that resulted in the Nittany Lions getting very good field position. The Illini defense managed to hold Penn State to a field goal, but yet another penalty, this one running into the kicker, gave the Nittany Lions another chance. This time they scored a touchdown and for all intensive purposes the game was over. So far in the 2012 season, things have not gone the way that most, including the players and coaches, thought that it would. Beckman had said repeatedly before the season began that he was worried about depth issues, and while some injuries to key positions have further worsened this problem, a lot of younger players are seeing more of the field than they originally thought was possible. Under interim coach Vic Koenning last year, the Illini looked pretty good in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA, and with Koenning running the defense a year ago, things weren't that bad, despite the six consecutive losses to end the regular season. That team lost Whitney Mercilus, Jeff Allen and A. J. Jenkins to the NFL, but it is unfathomable to think that those three losses could make this much of a difference. In the Illini's three defeats in the 2012 season, they have not only been beaten, they have been beaten down, and in a bad way. There is not any other way to say it than that. At times it has been down right ugly, and it is starting to show in attendance, which was not great to begin with. The last three games on the home schedule, Indiana, Purdue and Minnesota, do not scream sellouts, and judging from the recent performance of the football team, they won't even come close to getting Memorial Stadium half full for any of those games.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Illini starting this Saturday, when they travel to Madison, Wisconsin for the first of two straight road games, when they take on the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium (2:30 pm CT, ABC). The Badgers come into the game with Illinois at 3-2 overall, and dropped their conference opener last Saturday in Lincoln, Nebraska to the Nebraska Cornhuskers 30-27. Wisconsin lost a key member of their offense last season when Russell Wilson took his game to the NFL, but they still return Montee Ball, who figured prominently in their offense last season. Ball did have an off-season incident where he was attacked, but appears to be healthy once again and ready to welcome the Illini to Madison. Illinois, who comes into the game at 2-3 overall and also winless in the conference at 0-1, must figure out a way to get their offense moving, while at the same time finding a way to keep the Badgers off the field and off the scoreboard. If these things do not occur, it will be another long day for the Illini and the fan base, which is already restless, will become even more so.
The Illinois women's volleyball team made a trip to the Hoosier state this past weekend, and came away with a split, defeating Indiana in 4 games, while losing to Purdue in 5. The Illini have struggled out of the gate this season with the much tougher schedule, and will return to Huff Hall this coming weekend to face #19 Ohio State on Friday night (7:00 pm CT, BTN.com), then welcome top-ranked Penn State on Saturday evening (7:00 pm, CT, BTN.com). The Illini are currently 8-6 overall this season and 2-2 in the Big Ten.
Janet Rayfield's Illini women's soccer team also traveled to Indiana this past weekend, and came away a bit more successful than their spiker counterparts, defeating Indiana 2-1 and tying Purdue 1-1. The Illini will return home on Thursday evening to face Michigan State in a game that will be televised on the Big Ten Network at 7:00 pm CT. The Illini come into the game with the Spartans at 6-4-2 overall and 3-1-1 in the Big Ten.