We kind of saw this one coming.
The Fighting Illini football team began Big Ten Conference play this past weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the result was pretty much what everyone expected. However, there were some late developments that made the outcome even more of a given.
On Saturday afternoon, word began circulating that quarterback Wes Lunt might not play, due to an injury that he sustained in the game against Texas State. Lunt did not appear on the team's injury report that was issued on Thursday of game week, which is not a big deal, since the coaching staff doesn't have to list everyone on the report. Lunt was dealing with this injury all week, and didn't practice on Wednesday, which the media wouldn't have known about anyway, since we are not allowed to watch practice. So, enter Reilly O'Toole into the role of starting quarterback in a hostile environment at Nebraska. If Lunt would have played, he might have been injured worse because those defenders really gave O'Toole a rough time. For the game, Reilly was 17 for 38 passing for 261 yards, but threw three interceptions and one touchdown. Josh Ferguson got the Illini going early with a nice 41 yard touchdown run that was actually a backward lateral. What was more impressive about this score was the fact that it answered the Cornhuskers' opening score, a 12 yard scamper by Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah carried the ball 22 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns, and probably could have had close to 400 yards if he would have played the whole game. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini decided to rest Abdullah for the remainder of the game, and gave some of his carries to Amani Cross, who also carried the ball 22 times for 109 yards and a score. The Illini have a major issue with containing teams that run the football, and this game was very evident of that. The Illini couldn't stop anything, and even Nebraska's quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw for 166 yards on 10 for 21 passing. Armstrong didn't complete a pass in the first quarter, and as a matter of fact, his first pass was a 63 yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell. A game like this exposes all of the flaws that a struggling team has, and several of them were brought to the forefront on Saturday for the Illini.
The best remedy for a loss like the one the Illini sustained at Nebraska is to just forget about it and move on to the next game. Luckily for Illinois, that next game is back at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, and is against the Purdue Boilermakers (11:00 am CT, ESPN2), who just happen to be the only team that Tim Beckman has beaten in his three year tenure at Illinois. Purdue, who comes into the game with the Illini at 2-3 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten, lost their conference opener last Saturday at home against Iowa 24-10, has a similar story as the Illini do. Boilermakers coach Darrell Hazell is in his second season at the helm in West Lafayette, and struggled in his first season in the league last season, much like Beckman did in his first season in 2012. The Boilermakers struggle to score much like the Illini do, and do not have an air tight defense, so this game could go either way. Purdue has a couple of decent running backs in Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt, and with the Illini defense not doing well against the run with teams that have durable backs, if that tandem gets into a groove, they could put up some good sized numbers in terms of rushing yardage. This is also one of the "trophy games" for the Illini, as Illinois and Purdue play for "The Cannon". Illinois won the trophy last season, and have not won it back to back since the 2002 season. The Illini are 3-2 overall and 0-1 in the Big Ten.
This Saturday will also be the 125th anniversary of Illinois football, as well as an "orange-out" at Memorial Stadium, where fans are asked to wear orange to the game to support the team. The first 20,000 fans to enter the stadium will be given orange pom poms to wave during the course of the game,
It seemed like forever since the Fighting Illini volleyball team last played at Huff Hall, but last weekend they finally returned home to welcome the two newest members of the Big Ten, Rutgers and Maryland. The Illini swept the Terrapins on Friday night, and did the same with the Scarlet Knights on Saturday evening. The Illini continued their home success on Wednesday evening when they welcomed the #18 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers to Huff Hall for a televised match on the Big Ten Network. The Illini prevailed in 3 straight games once again to down the Gophers. The Illini have now won 13 straight games since losing the third game to Creighton last month. With the win on Wednesday evening, the Illini are 11-3 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten and will continue their streak of home games on Saturday evening when they take on #5 Wisconsin (7:00 pm CT, no TV).
The Fighting Illini women's soccer team took to the road this past weekend, and came away with a split, winning on Friday night 4-1 at Ohio State, but falling 2-1 to #8 Penn State on Sunday. Senior Jannelle Flaws continued her stellar season by scoring twice in the win over the Buckeyes and also scoring the lone goal against the Nittany Lions on Sunday. The Illini are currently 9-3-0 overall and 4-2-0 in conference play, and will play just once this weekend when they travel north to battle in-state rival Northwestern on Sunday in Evanston (5:00 pm CT, no TV).
We are nearing the time when the fall sports will overlap with the winter sports, as basketball practice for both the mens and womens teams begin within the next week. Renovations are coming along as scheduled at the State Farm Center, and will be ready for the first exhibition game, which will be in early November