Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

     It is not common for a football team to have two bye weeks during the season.  It is an even rarer feat for those bye weeks to occur within 4 weeks of one another.  This is exactly what Tim Beckman and his Fighting Illini football team have experienced over the past month, and it is something that he has never seen before in any level of coaching.  The drawback of this break in the action is now the Illini embark on the stretch run of the season, which consists of seven straight games, and within that stretch, they hope to break an ominous record, that being the 15 game losing streak in the Big Ten.  The schedule doesn't lay out favorably, since the next few weeks feature games that the Illini will not be expected to win.  The last time out, the Illini ventured to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers of Nebraska, and although the offense had been playing pretty well leading up to that game, quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and his offensive unit was smacked back to reality in a 39-19 loss, extending the Illini's conference slide.  The Illini took the bye week in stride, working on some of the issues that have led to this long streak, but at the same time, much of it cannot be helped.  Take the defense, for example.  The Illini have had major concerns on defense all season long, and it doesn't help when you only have 2 seniors that have seen significant action in the past.  Defensive end Tim Kynard and linebacker Jonathan Brown, who was injured last season, anchor the unit, which is comprised primarily of sophomores and a few freshmen and juniors sprinkled in.  Beckman has used plenty of freshmen this season, and with sophomores Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina seeing considerable action again this season, the break has been a welcome one.  But, as with everything, now it is back to business, and the meat of the schedule still to come, beginning with a prime time showdown with Wisconsin under the lights at Memorial Stadium this Saturday (7:00 pm CT, BTN).  The Badgers manhandled Northwestern last Saturday 35-6 to improve their record to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten.  Even though the Badgers have a new coach in Gary Andersen, it is pretty much the same Wisconsin squad, with a strong ground game still the norm.  This season, the Badgers have the conference's leading rushing attack (298.2 ypg), as well as total offense (519.5 ypg).  Wisconsin sophomore Melvin Gordon leads the team with 145 yards per game, and that total is good for #3 nationally.  The Illini, who are 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten, need to step it up on defense or else they will see that conference losing streak extend another game.

      After spending their second consecutive weekend away from Huff Hall, the Fighting Illini women's volleyball team came away with another split against their Indiana counterparts.  On Friday night, the Illini were defeated 3-1 by #20 Purdue in West Lafayette, but avenged the second loss on the weekend by besting Indiana in straight sets 3-0 on Saturday night in Bloomington.  The Illini are currently 7-9 overall on the season, and 3-3 in the Big Ten, and return to the confines of Huff Hall this weekend against yet another pair of ranked opponents.  On Friday evening, the Illini welcome always tough Penn State (7:00 pm CT, BTN) , who carry a #4 national ranking into Champaign.  Then, on Sunday afternoon, the Illini will host #17 Ohio State (2:00 pm CT, No TV) for their annual "Workout For The Cure" event, where they will wear pink jerseys to continue the awareness of breast cancer.

     The Fighting Illini women's soccer team hits the road this week, when they travel north to battle in-state rival Northwestern on Thursday evening (6:30 PM CT, No TV), then will travel to State College on Saturday to battle #17 Penn State (11:00 am CT, BTN).  The Illini defeated #20 Wisconsin last Saturday in Champaign 3-2, and will carry a 7-5-2 overall record into Evanston, with a 2-3-1 mark in conference games.

     The calendar says October, so that means that basketball season is right around the corner.  Your first chance to see the 2013-14 Fighting Illini men's basketball team happens on Thursday evening at 7:00, when they will conduct their annual Orange and Blue Scrimmage at the State Farm Center in Champaign.  You will need a program to identify this season's team, as there are 9 newcomers to the roster.  The only players with any prior experience for second year coach John Groce are senior Joseph Bertrand, juniors Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu, and sophomore walk-on Mike LaTulip.  The Illini have a talented freshman class, with Simeon players Kendrick Nunn and Jaylon Tate, Malcolm Hill from Belleville, and a couple of out of state players, Maverick Morgan (Springboro, OH) and Austin Colbert (Chesapeake, VA).  Rayvonte Rice, who sat out last season after transferring in from Drake, is now eligible, and will benefit greatly from the year on the sidelines.  Transfer Jon Ekey from Illinois State, will become eligible immediately, and will look to fulfill the role that Tyler Griffey provided last season.  A trio of players have to sit out after transferring in from other schools, and will look to gain that experience that Rice received last season when he did the same thing.  Aaron Cosby, who came in from Seton Hall, and Darius Paul, the younger brother of former Illini Brandon Paul, came in from Western Michigan.  A third player, Ahmad Starks, was denied his waiver to play this season after transferring in from Oregon State to be with his grandmother, who is ill.  Starks is from Chicago, and was hoping to play before the NCAA stepped in and did not grant his hardship waiver.  The Illini will play the first of their two exhibition games on October 24th when they welcome McKendree College.

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