I am assuming that the Mike Riley fan club in Lincoln, Nebraska is not increasing anytime soon.
A bizarre ending to the Illinois Big Ten opener against Nebraska resulted in an Illini win, as they staged an improbable comeback against the Cornhuskers, coming back from a 13-0 fourth quarter deficit to win 14-13 on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
The Illini defense, which was perceived to be a work in progress entering the 2015 season, had performed admirably all year long up to this point, and held Nebraska scoreless into the second quarter of play. The Cornhuskers put up 10 second quarter points to take a 10-0 lead into the halftime locker room and it was looking like much of the same old story with the Illini, who hadn't beaten Nebraska since 1924 when Red Grange graced the Memorial Stadium sidelines.
Perhaps there was some of the Galloping Ghost's magic on Saturday, because the Illini began to scratch and claw their way back, while at the same time, holding Nebraska to just a field goal in the second half.
Something that I am still having a hard time understanding was Riley and his play calling down the stretch in a game that Nebraska seemingly had in control. With just over two minutes left to play, the Cornhuskers drove into Illinois territory and forced the Illini to burn their timeouts. At the time, Nebraska still led 13-7 and had a third down from the Illinois 27 yard line, but instead of running the ball to kill the clock, Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. went to the air on successive plays, including a 4th down and 7 yards to go from the same spot. A simple field goal would have clinched the win for the Cornhuskers, but when they went for it and didn't convert, that gave the Illini one final chance to march 73 yards with no timeouts remaining.
Wes Lunt's first pass downfield was complete to a wide open Marchie Murdock, who brought it down inside the red zone and then Lunt went to work trying to find Geronimo Allison in the endzone. After a couple of incomplete passes, which were followed by a pair of defensive pass interference calls against Nebraska, the Illini found themselves 1st and goal from the 1 yard line, and that is when Lunt finally found Allison for the game winning score with just 10 ticks remaining on the clock.
However, the win came at a price, as senior Josh Ferguson, who has held the Illini running game together for the most part this season, left the game in the second quarter after injuring his shoulder after a long run. In Ferguson's place was true freshman Ke'Shawn Vaughn, who had 24 carries for 98 yards. Vaughn continues to impress and will be a breath of fresh air, especially if Ferguson misses any significant time.
This Saturday, the Illini take to the road for the second time this season, and are hoping for a better showing this time around than when they lost at North Carolina last month. The destination this time is Iowa City, where Illinois will battle the Iowa Hawkeyes (11:00 am CT, ESPNU). The Illini have not played at Kinnick Stadium since 2007, coincidentally the last time that Illinois went to the Rose Bowl. Iowa is 5-0 for the first time in a while and won a defensive battle last Saturday, knocking off #19 Wisconsin 10-6 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. Iowa is led by their quarterback C. J. Beathard, who had a lackluster game against the Badgers, only completing 9 of 21 pass attempts for 77 yards and a touchdown, as well as an interception. Running back Jordan Canzeri had a good game for the Hawkeyes, rushing a career-high 26 times for 125 yards, Iowa has been bringing it on defense this season, Cornerback Desmond King had two interceptions for the Hawkeyes, who are in a vitual tie atop the Big Ten's Western Division with Illinois (4-1) and Northwestern, who also is 5-0 on the season.
The Fighting Illini volleyball team ended a mammoth road swing with a pair of tough losses this past weekend, dropping matches to Wisconsin (4 games) and Minnesota (5 games). The Illini last played at Huff Hall back on August 29th, and since that time, have gone 8-4. The Illini are currently 11-4 overall and 2-2 in Big Ten play, and will host top-ranked Penn State on Friday evening (7:00 pm CT, BTN) and Ohio State on Saturday night (7:00 pm CT, No TV). The match against the Nittany Lions will be the annual Illi-noise event, where the fans will attempt to break the decibel level that was set a year ago. It will also be a welcome sight for coach Kevin Hambly and his team, who has endured a lot on this road venture.
The Illinois womens' soccer team played one match this past weekend, and took Ohio State to overtime, where the match ended in a 1-1 tie. According to head coach Janet Rayfield, "it was nice to get the point for the tie instead of taking the loss, but a win would have been nicer". The Illini are currently 8-2-2 overall and 2-1-2 in Big Ten play, and will be on the road this weekend, when they travel to East Lansing, Michigan to face the Michigan State Spartans on Thursday afternoon (3:00 pm CT, No TV), before staying in Michigan to face the Wolverines on Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor (1:00 PM CT, No TV).
That's the state of things this week in Illini Nation.