This season of Fighting Illini football is getting hard to watch. Very hard to watch. In a season that has pretty much been lost, the Illini were once again blown out, this time 45-0 at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines at a very rainy Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Very little is going right for new Illini coach Tim Beckman right now, and the product on the field is very reminiscent of that. In a game that saw the Illini only rack up 134 total yards of offense, including just 29, yes, 29! passing yards, it is very evident that something is dreadfully wrong and the fix isn't attainable at the moment. Illini starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was hurt once again against the Wolverines, and his replacement, Reilly O'Toole, didn't do much of anything. Illinois knew that they would have their hands full with Michigan's dual threat quarterback Denard Robinson, but did anybody really expect this? Robinson rushed for 128 yards on 11 carries and scored 2 touchdowns on the ground, while completing 7 of 11 passes for 129 yards and two more scores, including a 71 yard touchdown to receiver Jeremy Gallon. It is plays like this that give the hint that something is not quite right with the defensive alignment of the Illini. After all, wasn't Beckman a defensive minded coach coming in from Toledo? While injuries have certainly been a factor this year for Illinois, that excuse is beginning to lose its identity. This team is just plain bad, and if it looks this bleak now, next year is shaping up to be even worse. The Illini will lose Michael Buchanan, Terry Hawthorne, and possibly Akeem Spence and Jonathan Brown. There are others on the defensive unit that also will be graduating, and the outlook for players that can step in and take over for these departing seniors looks very dismal as well. However, one true freshman is playing very well early on, and that player is linebacker Mason Monheim. There are rumblings as of late saying that Illinois may have hired the wrong guy, and the person that they should have looked at is the current coach at Toledo. I still think that this thought process is a little far fetched, but as each loss continues to mount for the Illini, one has to think whether or not that could become a factor down the stretch.
Thankfully, (I think), the Illini have a bye this week and don't have to play a game. That means that they won't lose, and will have a chance to get some players healthy and hopefully back on the field in a week when they take on the Indiana Hoosiers a week from Saturday at Memorial Stadium for Homecoming (11:00 am, BTN). Earlier in the season, the game against the Hoosiers looked like one that could be counted in the win column, but judging from their game against Ohio State last Saturday evening, that may no longer be a possibility. The Hoosiers racked up 49 points in a loss to the Buckeyes, and the recent ineptness of the Illini defense to stop opponents does not bode well with Indiana coming into town. The Illini are 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten, and in their 5 losses, the closest margin has been 17 points. That was the Wisconsin game, in which the Illini played remarkably well for three quarters before falling apart in the fourth. Yes, there are major issues involving the Illinois football program, and there are basically no answers at the moment.
It was nice to see professional basketball at the Assembly Hall last Friday night, as the Chicago Bulls entertained the Cleveland Cavaliers in an exhibition game. Despite the Bulls not having Derrick Rose playing, due to an injury sustained last season, there was still enough talent on the floor to give the smallish crowd something to cheer about. The attendance could have have been influenced by a couple of different factors, given it was Friday night and the high school football teams are in their final playoff push, not to mention that the Cardinals were playing the Washington Nationals in the NLDS. Still, it was a good time and I look forward to the NBA coming back to the 'Hall again next season.
While I am on the subject of basketball, new Illini basketball coach John Groce and his team offically began practice last Friday, and are preparing for the Orange and Blue Scrimmage, which will be Monday evening at the Assembly Hall. Groce will be taking seniors D. J. Richardson and Brandon Paul to Chicago next week for the annual Big Ten basketball media days at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare in suburban Chicago. This event is always one of great interest to many, and in addition to the men being up there, all 12 of the women's teams will also be appearing, including new Illini women's coach Matt Bollant. Bollant comes in with high expectations, having had great success at Wisconsin Green-Bay before taking the Illini job. Bollant will be bringing with him Kersten Magrum, Amber Moore and Karisma Penn. Look for a full report from media days in next week's blog.
After losing four straight matches, Kevin Hambly's Illini women's volleyball team have managed to get back on the winning track, defeating Michigan State last Saturday evening in East Lansing, and then returning to Huff Hall on Wednesday evening to defeat the Northwestern Wildcats in 5 games. The Illini have been having their ups and downs this season, so this mini winning streak is a breath of fresh air. However, the Illini have a tough customer coming into Huff this weekend, as #4 Nebraska visits Champaign for a Sunday afternoon matinee (2:00 pm, ESPN2). The Illini are 10-9 overall, but just 4-5 in the Big Ten ahead of the match against the Cornhuskers.
With the regular season winding down for Janet Rayfield's Illini women's soccer team, they have hit a rough patch of their own in the past week, now reeling after a third straight loss. The Illini were swept last weekend in their trip north of the state border, as they lost 3-0 to Minnesota on Friday and were defeated 2-1 in double overtime to Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon. The Illini were upset on Thursday evening at the Illinois Soccer Stadium by Northwestern 2-1, and will host Nebraska on Sunday (12:00 pm, no TV). The Illini are 7-7-2 overall, and bring a 4-4-1 conference mark into the game with the Cornhuskers this weekend.