You can view the 2013 Fighting Illini football season as a season of quarters. With 3 games now in the books, that would signal the end of the first quarter. In grading the Illini through the end of that quarter, it would be fair to assume that they have done fairly well, most deserving of a B- to C+ grade. Already, Tim Beckman's team has exceeded expectations, and undoubtedly, earned him at least another year as the head coach. The dominating win over Cincinnati can be attributed to this, but last Saturday at historic Soldier Field in Chicago, the Illini held their own against a formidable Washington squad, losing 34-24. In looking at the statistics, it becomes apparent that the Huskies were dominant, out-gaining the Illini in total yards 615 to 327. Washington, who runs a fast-paced offense, was able to get off 89 plays against the Illini, averaging a play roughly every 10-11 seconds. The Huskies struck in quick flashes, led by their outstanding running back Bishop Sankey, who carried the ball 35 times for 208 and a touchdown. Washington quarterback Keith Price was also very efficient, completing 28 of his 35 passes for 342 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sankey also caught a touchdown pass from Price, but his main target was Kevin Smith, who caught 5 passes for 104 yards. The Huskies' outstanding tight end, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, was not effective, only catching 3 passes for 8 yards. Seferian-Jenkins has the build to play at the next level, and the fact that he is coming off an injury could stand the reason why he was severely limited in the game. On the Illinois stat side, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase didn't have the best of days, only completing 9 of 25 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown. However, the blame cannot be dumped solely on Scheelhaase, as 2 receivers, Ryan Lankford and Steve Hull, both dropped sure touchdown passes at some point in the game. As far as the running game went for the Illini, they rushed 36 times for 136 yards, and scored twice on the ground, once by Scheelhaase, and the other score was a 10 yard scamper by freshman Aaron Bailey. In his short career, Bailey continues to impress, and gives the Illini another added dimension that Scheelhaase doesn't possess. The aforementioned Lankford only caught 3 passes on the night, but one of those was a quick strike for 72 yards that did go for a touchdown. When the Illini got down 31-10 in the third quarter, things began to remind Illini fans of last year, when the team would pretty much mail it in and accept the consequences. However, this team has a different mantra, and the strike from Scheelhaase to Lankford brought the Illini ever closer. The Illini narrowed the gap further on Bailey's scamper, but couldn't get any closer to drop the game.
The Illini enjoy the first of their 2 bye weeks this weekend, and the time off is welcomed, since this is still a young team and a lot of players have seen action already. The Illini will conclude their non-conference portion of the season next Saturday when they welcome the Redhawks of Miami (Ohio) to Memorial Stadium (11:00 am CT, BTN). To think of a possible 3-1 pre-Big Ten record would have been unheard of at the beginning of the season, and with the conference being somewhat down this season than in years past, the dreaded B word is being bandied about. But, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, so I won't go there.
Kevin Hambly's Illini volleyball team continues to welcome any and all comers to their schedule, and as evidenced by last weekend's Illini Classic, they can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country. The Illini welcomed Arizona State, #6 Washington and #2 Texas to Huff Hall last weekend, and although they came away with a 1-2 mark on the weekend, they feel confident that the upgraded competition will serve them well once the Big Ten season begins. The Illini defeated the Sun Devils 3-2, but lost to the Huskies 3-1 and the Longhorns 3-2, in front of huge crowds for all matches, including the Arizona State match, which began at 10:00 am on Friday morning. The Illini will wrap up their non-conference portion of the schedule this coming weekend, when they travel to ACC country to battle the Tar Heels of North Carolina on Friday night (6:00 pm CT), and then over to Durham on Saturday evening to battle the Duke Blue Devils (5:30 pm CT). The Illini currently stand at 4-4 overall heading into the weekend action.
The Illini women's soccer team finished the non-conference portion of their season this past weekend with a pair of wins, defeating Indiana State 3-2 on Friday night, then taking down Florida International on Sunday afternoon 4-0. The Illini improved their season mark to 5-2-1 with the wins, and will begin Big Ten play this Friday when they travel to Columbus to battle the Ohio State Buckeyes (4:00 pm CT). The match against Ohio State is the only contest on the schedule for this weekend, so that will give Coach Janet Rayfield's squad a chance to rest before the meat of the conference schedule gets going next weekend.
Finally for this week, a bit of basketball news. The 2013-14 men's basketball team will conduct an "Illini Street Jam" on Saturday, September 28th at 7:30 pm at the corner of Wright and Green Streets in the heart of the University of Illinois campus. Both the men's and women's teams will be unveiled at this event, and both teams will also participate in the jam, which is free and open to the public. This event coincides with Dad's Day and the football game with Miami (Ohio), and will follow the volleyball match at Huff Hall against #12 Nebraska, which starts at 4:00 pm.