The task ahead of the Fighting Illini football team couldn't be more clear. Win out, or go home. The Illini were defeated 30-14 last Saturday by the Iowa Hawkeyes, a team they hadn't seen on the field since 2008. Quarterback Wes Lunt returned under center for Illinois, and was a little rusty on offense, completing 14 of 25 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown to freshman sensation Mikey Dudek. Dudek, who is havng a fantastic freshman season, hauled in 8 balls for 60 yards and 2 touchdown catches, the other one coming from backup QB Reilly O'Toole late in the fourth quarter. The Illini have put themselves in a precarious position, needing 2 wins in the final two games in order to become bowl eligible and save head coach Tim Beckman's job. Beckman has been under scrutiny this season, having won just 2 conference games in his three seasons in Champaign. However, Beckman maintains that the team is on the right path, and claims to be getting better each week, although the overall record does not reflect that. The Illini are 4-6 overall, but just 1-5 in Big Ten play, and whereas the possibility still exists about getting a bowl bid, the reality speaks otherwise.
The first step in that process will be this coming Saturday, when the Illini welcome Penn State to Memorial Stadum for Senior Day (11:00 am CT, ESPN2). The Nittany Lions come into the game with Illinois at 6-4 overall and 2-4 in the tough East Division of the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions stepped out of conference last Saturday and defeated Temple 30-13 in State College. Penn State has one of the more talented quarterbacks in the league in Christian Hackenberg, although his numbers in the win over the Owls didn't show it. Hackenberg completed 12 of 26 passes for 112 yards, and threw two interceptions on the day. The story of the game for Penn State was the running of Akeel Lynch, who carried the ball 18 times for 130 yards and a touchdown. The Illini have been known to be soft against the run, and the running of both Lynch and Bill Belton could prove fatal for the Illini defense.
One of the best things about this time of year is the crossover of the sports seasons. Since volleyball and soccer are beginning to wrap up, mens' and womens' basketball is just beginning in the currently renovated State Farm Center. John Groce's mens' team opened up the season last Friday night in rather uneventful fashion, defeating Georgia Southern 81-70. Knowing Groce wasn't too happy with the effort against the Eagles, the Illini came out on Sunday a completely different focused team, taking down another flock of Eagles, these from Coppin State 114-56, as six players scored in double figures for the Fighting Illini. Leading the way for the Illini were freshman Leron Black and Ahmad Starks, who each scored 18 points. Aaron Cosby added 17, while senior Rayvonte Rice chipped in 14 for Illinois, who improves to 2-0 on the young season. The Illini tied a State Farm Center record by draining 15 three-pointers, and came within one of the all-time high for a single game of 16, set during the impeccable game against Arizona back in 2005. The Illini will be back in action this coming Friday night when they welcome the Governors of Austin Peay to Champaign. If the name Austin Peay sounds familiar, it should. Those Illini fans that have been around a while will remember the crushing loss that Illinois suffered to the Governors in the 1987 NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, the news will be happier this time around for the Illini faithful.
Matt Bollant's women's team has also started their season, and are off to a quick 2-0 start, despite missing all 21 of their three-point attempts in the season opening, come-from-behind win over IPFW. The Illini fared much better in their second game, a 66-48 win over Robert Morris at the State Farm Center on Tuesday night. In that win, freshman sensation Chatrice White, a McDonald's All-American in high school, led the Illini in scoring with 23 points and grabbbed 8 rebounds, while senior Brittany Carter recorded a double-double, scoring 11 points and caroming 10 boards. The Illini will be right back in action on Thursday night against Memphis (7:00 pm CT, No TV) and then again on Sunday when they host Southern University (2:00 pm CT, No TV).
The regular season is coming to a close for Kevin Hambly's Illini women's volleyball team, and they have a huge match coming up on Wednesday evening. The #10 ranked Illini will travel to Madison, Wisconsin to battle the #2 Wisconsin Badgers in a pivotal top-ten matchup (7:00 pm CT, No TV). The Badgers come into the match with the Illini at 24-2 overall and 15-1 in conference play, while the Illini check in at 21-6 overall and 13-3 in the Big Ten. The Illini will also wrap up the road games for the regular season on Saturday, when they travel to Bloomington, Indiana to battle the Indiana Hoosiers (6:00 pm CT, No TV).