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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

     Been a while since I last posted, so here goes.

     Now that the Illinois football spring game is over, the focus can be shifted to the ongoing quarterback battle.  Or can it?

     It is no secret that the main topic of the spring football season has been the battle between the three quarterbacks on the Illinois roster.  All three candidates, Wes Lunt, Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey have impressed head coach Tim Beckman with what each player does well, and Beckman is still not going to name a starter. at least not just yet.  There have been tons of speculation about who will be "the guy", with most throughout Illini Nation assuming that Lunt will be the one annointed when Camp Rantoul begins.

     But now that the spring game is in the rear view mirror, more questions abound regarding who will emerge.  Teams were picked for the game by a group of seniors each comprising of the Blue and the Orange team, and O'Toole made Lunt the first selection on the Blue team.  The Orange team countered with Josh Ferguson with their initial pick.  Everyone expected Lunt to start the game, but instead it was O'Toole that led the Blue team to two first quarter touchdown drives.  Beckman would have preferred each signal caller to alternate drives, but it was Alex Golesh's call, and Beckman was quoted afterwards saying "blame him for that move".  When Lunt did get in the game at the start of the second quarter, the first four plays were running plays, and Lunt's first pass was batted down, while the second one was intercepted.  Not exactly a stellar beginning for someone that has been referred to as the "savior of the program".  Now, those are not my words, but rather comments that I have heard throughout the spring practice sessions from fans and other types supposedly in the know.  It makes perfect sense to laud Lunt in this regard, but O'Toole's performance does open up some possibility that the decision has not been fully made yet.  Add in the scrambling ability of Bailey and the decision begins to get even tougher.  The Blue team totally dominated the Orange in the game 38-7, and some of the questions on defense are still there, much like they were at the close of last season.  This is Beckman's third season with the Illini, and many believe that it could be his last unless the Illini somehow make it to a bowl game.  Beckman has stuck his neck on the line by retaining defensive coordinator Tim Banks, and he believes that Banks is the right person to lead the defense.  The offensive line is still depth starved, something that also needs to change before the 2014 season begins on August 30th when Youngstown State pays a visit to Memorial Stadium.  But for now, Lunt and the rest of the quarterbacks will continue to battle and work out independently, hoping for a decision to be made as who will be the starter.  Just don't look for that announcement to come anytime soon.

     The Fighting Illini baseball team has sprinted off to a decent start to the 2014 season, and much of their success can be attributed to the pitching, which has been nothing short of spectacular this season.  After notching back to back 1-0 victories, the Illini ran into some problems as Michigan paid a visit to Illinois Field this past weekend.  The Illini got by the Wolverines on Friday by a 1-0 score, as Drasen Johnson and Tyler Jay combined on the shutout.  However, on Saturday, the Wolverines brought the hitting sticks, as they beat up on the Illini 17-9.  On Sunday afternoon, the Wolverines took the series with a 4-2 win.  The Illini end the weekend at 18-13 overall and 6-3 in the Big Ten, and will travel to Normal on Tuesday to take on Illinois State before departing for State College, Pennsylvania this weekend for a three game series against the Penn State Nittany Lions.

     Terri Sullivan's Illini softball team is in the midst of a five game losing streak, and are coming off of a three game sweep by Wisconsin over the weekend in Madison.  The Illini lost a pair of games by a 3-2 score, and also were downed 10-3 in the other game against the Badgers.  The Illini are slumbering along, now 18-18 overall and just 2-10 in the Big 10.  The Illini will welcome the Blue Demons of DePaul on Wednesday afternoon to Eichelberger Field for a non-conference game, before heading to West Lafayette, Indiana this weekend to battle the Boilermakers of Purdue.

     Finally, this week marks the official re-branding of the athletic programs by Nike, something that has everyone associated with the program quite excited about.  It has been a long time since the logo and the uniforms were updated, and with Nike being the primary sportswear outfitter for the Illini, as well as many other schools, the time has come for Illinois to get their brand updated.  The event, which is free, will be held on Wednesday evening in the Great Hall of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts on campus.  Some of the athletes from both the mens' and womens' basketball teams, as well as the football team, will be modeling the new digs.  People attending the event did need to get a ticket ahead of time, and it there were any that were unclaimed by I-Fund donors, they were to be offered to the general public on a first-come, first-served basis.  Stay tuned for the new logos.