Yes, the unthinkable happened last weekend at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, and what I mean by that is the Illini finally won a home Big Ten game with Tim Beckman as head coach. The Illini defeated the Minnesota Golden Gophers 28-24 Whatever the fate of Beckman is at the end of this season, one thing remains clear: this team keeps trying, and win or lose, the effort is there. Three things can be taken away from the game on Saturday that led to the win. The first one is the play of Reilly O'Toole. Although O'Toole didn't have stellar numbers (14-21-0 for 118 yards and one touchdown), he did employ the run a little more than he normally does. This is normally reserved for O'Toole's main competitor, Aaron Bailey, who saw just one series of action during the game. Beckman had said earlier in the week that both quarterbacks would see action, but when Bailey came into the game, the offense wasn't flowing the way he wanted it to, so he went back to O'Toole, who finished the game. O'Toole gained 59 yards on 17 carries, and scored another touchdown via the run, getting his first win as starting quarterback. Another thing that can be taken away from the game on Saturday is the play of the defense. Under Tim Banks, the defense has performed miserably so far this season, but against the Golden Gophers, they bent but didn't break. When the Illini had a lead, they maintained it for the most part, but once again had to hang on for the victory. Which brings me to my third thing from last week, which is the stellar play of cornerback V'Angelo Bentley. Bentley has been a one-man wrecking crew on special teams and defense, and his scoop of a recovered fumble that essentially won the game also put him in the record book at Illinois. Since Bentley arrived in Champaign, he has now scored a touchdown four different ways, running a kickoff back, taking a punt back, getting an interception and returning it for a score, and now, picking up a fumble and scoring. Not even Red Grange, whom the Illini honored by wearing grey uniforms last Saturday, can claim that.
So, what can the Illini do for an encore this week? First of all, their matchup is a very tough one, as they head east to Columbus, Ohio to battle the Ohio State Buckeyes in prime time (7:00 pm CT, ABC). The Illini haven't won in Columbus since 2007, which coincidentally, was when Juice Williams was the quarterback. Williams is now on the coaching staff, so he can get in the heads of the players and instill them on how to beat the Buckeyes. Ohio State had an injury to their signal caller earlier this season, as Braxton Miller suffered a season ending injury. Enter J. T. Barrett, who may even be better than what Miller is. Illinois (4-4, 1-3) heads into the Ohio State game with some sustained momentum following the win over Minnesota, but the Buckeyes will be waiting. Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) needed double overtime to defeat Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania, so they will be looking to make a better showing when they face the Illini. Barrett's numbers weren't that good against the Nittany Lions, only completing 12 of 19 passes for 74 yards. However, Barrett scored twice on the ground in overtime to seal the win for the Buckeyes. Barrett was also injured in the game, but fully expects to play against Illinois on Saturday night.
The Fighting Illini women's volleyball team continued their winning ways last weekend, as they swept a pair of home matches against both Indiana and Purdue at Huff Hall. On Friday evening, the Illini dispatched the Hoosiers 3-0 (25-18, 25-14, 25-19), and then came back on Saturday night to take down the #13 Boilermakers 3-1 (25-20, 26-24, 26-28, 26-24) in a thrilling match. The Illini have now won five consecutive matches and have improved their overall record to 16-5 overall and 8-2 in the Big Ten. The Illini, who come in this week ranked #10 in the AVCA poll, hit the road for the first of three matches in a span of 6 days. On Friday night, the Illini head to East Lansing, Michigan to battle the Michigan State Spartans (6:00 pm CT, BTN), and then will travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday night to face the Michigan Wolverines (6:30 pm CT, No TV).
The Fighting Illini women's soccer team is wrapping up the regular season schedule, and the up and down season continued this past weekend, when they split two matches at the Illinois Soccer Stadium. The Illini defeated Michigan State on Friday night 2-0, and then were defeated by Michigan on Sunday afternoon 2-1. The Illini will send their seniors out on style Friday evening when they welcome #11 Wisconsin to Champaign for Senior Night. Illinois will recognize two seniors, Megan Green and Noelle Leary, before the match on Friday night. The Illini are currently 10-7-1 overall, but just 5-6-1 in conference play. However, the Illini have earned a spot in next week's Big Ten Tournament, which is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, November 5th in West Lafayette, Indiana.
As Fighting Illini men's and women's basketball season approaches, some news off the court (sort of) happened this week. On Tuesday, a storm drain was blocked, resulting in rain water flooding the State Farm Center floor and covering the basketball court. The floor may need to be replaced, but it should not affect the schedule of games this season. Something that will affect the schedule for the beginning of the 2015-16 season is the continued renovation efforts at the State Farm Center. As a result, the first five games scheduled for November 2015 have officially been moved to the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield. The capacity of the PCCC is about half the size of the SFC, but the move is necessary to facilitate efforts to get that phase of the construction schedule completed. More information on this as time goes on.