A win is a win, or at least that is how the Fighting Illini football team feels after their narrow escape over Youngstown State in the season opener last Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The Illini struggles against the Penguins, getting off to slow start, and taking nearly three quarters before shaking off the cobwebs and taking care of business. Sophomore transfer Wes Lunt, named the starting quarterback last week for the Illini, had the best debut by an Illini signal caller in school history, completing 24 of 38 passes for 285 yards and 4 touchdown passes. Lunt, like the Illini, started slow, but came alive in the fourth quarter, going 9-11 for 155 yards and 3 touchdown passes in the final stanza. "I was just happy to get the win, and it felt really good to put things together finally", Lunt said on Monday of his performance on Saturday. Two freshmen made impressive debuts for the Illini on Saturday, those being wide receivers Mike Dudek and Malik Turner. Dudek caught 3 passes for 61 yards, including an 8 yard touchdown, his first career touchdown grab as an Illini. Turner snagged 4 balls for 42 yards, while junior college transfer Geronimo Allison caught 2 passes for 43 yards. The defense, a major issue a year ago for Illinois, fared much better on Saturday, as they kept the Illini in the game until the offense took over. Even more impressive was the red zone defense, which held Youngstown State to just one touchdown, a 2 yard run in the fourth quarter. Austin Teitsma had a superb game for the Illini, recording a career high 9 tackles, 2.5 of those for losses, and recorded a half-sack. Teitsma, a senior, plays with a lot of emotion on the field, but is a fun-loving individual off the field. "I just try to go out there and have fun and give it my all, and we do a lot of joking around in the locker room after games, which eases the tension quite a bit", Teitsma said of his approach to playing.
Illinois (1-0), now faces a stern test this coming Saturday, when they welcome the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky to Memorial Stadium (11:00 am CT, BTN). The Hilltoppers are coming off a 59-31 win over Bowling Green last Saturday, a game in which quarterback Brandon Doughty set numerous records. Doughty completed 46 of 56 passes for 569 yards and threw 6 touchdown passes in the rout of the Falcons. This is not very good news for the Illini secondary, who will undoubtedly be very busy trying to defend against the pass. The Hilltoppers can be compared to Louisiana Tech, a team that came into Champaign two seasons ago and lit the Illini up en route to the victory. Western Kentucky runs a no-huddle offense, which resulted in 97 plays from scrimmage in the win against Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers play in Conference USA, and are coached by Jeff Brohm, who played his collegiate football at Louisville. Brohm, as well as secondary coach Mike Cassity, both coached at Illinois during the Ron Zook tenure, so they are very familiar with the Big Ten and Illinois. For the Illini to come out on top against the Hilltoppers, they will need to limit their mistakes, and also get the offense into high gear to keep up.
The Fighting Illini women's volleyball team got their season off to a strong start, winning three straight matches in the Illini Classic this past weekend at Huff Hall in Champaign. The Illini defeated Long Beach State on Friday evening 3-0, then played a pair of matches on Saturday, disposing of Southern Illinois 3-0 in the morning, then coming back to defeat the #20 ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in 3 straight games. For the weekend, the Illini did not lose a game, and gained some valuable experience in the process. Illini senior Liz McMahon was named Most Valuable Player of the Illini Classic, and on Monday, was also named the Big 10 Player of the Week.
However, the competition gets a whole lot tougher this coming weekend, when the Illini venture away from Huff for the first time to take part in the Big 10/Pac 12 Challenge in Stanford, California. The Illini will play UCLA on Friday evening, before taking on what will probably be the new #1 team in the AVCA rankings, the Cardinal of Stanford on Sunday. A daunting task, no doubt, but Illini coach Kevin Hambly likes the idea of facing the top competition so early in the season. "We know UCLA will be tough, and Stanford will probably come in as the top team, but we just want to go out there and play volleyball, and see what happens", Hambly said of his early season test. We will surely know a lot more about the Illini volleyball team after this weekend, and win or lose, one thing is clear: Hambly does not back down from the competition.
The Fighting Illini women's soccer team started their season before any other sports team on campus, and currently stand at 3-1 after the first 4 matches of the season. After a season opening 3-1 loss to Notre Dame back on August 22nd, the Illini bounced back to defeat Louisville 2-0 and Arizona State 3-1 at home, while venturing on the road for the first time, and coming away with a 1-0 overtime win against Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan on Sunday. The Illini will once again be on the road this weekend, when they will take part in the College of Charleston Tournament in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The Illini will face the host team, the College of Charleston on Friday evening (6:30 pm CT, no TV), then will take on UAB on Sunday morning (11:00 am CT, no TV) to conclude the tournament.