Nobody said that this would be easy.
The 2013 Fighting Illini football season is at the halfway point, and although they are a little better off this season than they were last year at this time, the main focus continues to be the Big Ten losing streak, which is currently at 16 games. Granted, the beginning of the conference season was a brutal stretch, with games at Nebraska, and then home contests with Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Illini lost to the Badgers 56-32 last Saturday, and as expected, Wisconsin kept the ball on the ground for the majority of the game, racking up 289 of their 478 yards via the run. The Illini found themselves in a familiar position early in the game, as they fell behind 21-0 in the first 10 minutes of the game, thanks to some mental errors and turnovers. Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a decent day, completing 20 of 27 passes for 249 yards, but did not throw any touchdown passes. Scheelhaase did have a one yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but the two passing scores were done by the other quarterbacks on the roster, Reilly O'Toole and true freshman Aaron Bailey. O'Toole found Spencer Harris for a 29 yard score late in the game, while Bailey's touchdown went to tight end Matt LaCosse shortly before halftime. Bailey continues to impress in his short time in Champaign, and it should be quite a battle next season when he and Wes Lunt competes for the starting job for 2014. O'Toole seems to be the odd man out next season, but keep in mind that he will also be competing for the starting job, even though it appears to be a two horse race between Bailey and Lunt at this point.
The Illini will take on a Michigan State Spartans team this Saturday (2:30 pm CT, ABC) that comes into the game at 6-1 overall and unbeaten in conference play at 3-0. It is homecoming in Champaign, and the Illini would like nothing else than to give the alumni returning to campus a victory. The Spartans don't have much of a prolific offense to speak of, but their defense is the main reason that they have been so dominant this season. This could provide a problem for Scheelhaase and company, and should give the defense a cause for concern to step it up another notch to keep the game close. This also is the best opportunity to end the streak, although there are much more winnable games on the schedule in the upcoming weeks. The Illini currently sit at 3-3 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, and will look to break through the barrier that is the Spartans defense, who have only allowed 95 points on the season in their 6 games.
Basketball has begun on the University of Illinois campus with the annual Orange and Blue Scrimmage taking place last Thursday night at the State Farm Center. The team, who is very young this season, split into two teams and most players spent time on both the orange and the blue teams. The blue team prevailed 59-51, with Rayvonte Rice and Nnanna Egwu each scoring 17 points to lead in scoring. Sophomore walkon Mike LaTulip added 15 points, including a perfect 10-10 from the free throw line. The three players that are ineligible to play this season because of transfer rules all looked pretty good, and they would be in the mix to play if they could. Darius Paul, Ahmad Starks and Aaron Cosby all have to sit out this season, but Starks, if he would have received the waiver from the NCAA, could fill in handily at the point guard position. Alas, he cannot play, so it is a moot point. The Illini have their first of two exhibition games on Thursday evening when they welcome McKendree College to the State Farm Center. The purpose of the exhibition games are to fine tune what the guys have been doing in practice, and also to match up against someone other than themselves.
The Fighting Illini women's volleyball team split two games this past weekend against ranked teams, losing to #4 Penn State on Friday night in 5 games, and then defeating #17 Ohio State on Sunday afternoon 3-1. Bucking the trend of the Friday-Saturday routine, the Illini ventured north to Evanston on Wednesday evening to battle the Northwestern Wildcats in a mid-week showdown, and were stunned in 5 games after taking a 2-0 lead. The Illini will travel to Madison on Sunday afternoon to battle the Wisconsin Badgers in what has emerged as a must-win match. The Illini are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives right now, as they are 8-11 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten.
The Illini women's soccer team had one match this past weekend, and it was one to forget, as they lost at Penn State 5-0 on Sunday afternoon. The soccer season is winding down, and the Illini will welcome Michigan and Michigan State to Champaign this weekend for their final home matches of the regular season. The Illini will battle Michigan on Friday night (7:00 pm CT), and then will entertain the Spartans on Sunday afternoon (1:00 pm CT), hoping to improve their place in the Big Ten standings. The Illini currently are 8-6-2 overall and 3-4-1 in the Big Ten heading into this weekend's action.