After a rather pedestrian first half of the 2015 football season, the Fighting Illini enjoyed their bye week, which enabled a few players to get healthy, while others mulled their immediate futures by dealing with various injuries of their own.
Illinois finished the first half of the season with a 4-2 record, and 1-1 in Big Ten play, and begin the second half of the season welcoming the Wisconsin Badgers to Memorial Stadium for Homecoming on Saturday (2:30 pm CT, BTN).
Illinois has been bitten by the injury bug numerous this times this season, and the list of players sidelined could very well compete on the first team. From Mikey Dudek and Justin Hardee being out thus far the entire season, the prospects of Dudek playing this season are dwindling fast, while Hardee could return as soon as Saturday, although interim head coach Bill Cubit wasn't overly optimistic about that happening. Senior running back Josh Ferguson injured his shoulder in the win over Nebraska three weeks ago, and is likely to miss his second straight game against the Badgers as he deals with an AC sprain of the shoulder. Wide receiver Marchie Murdock also was injured in last week's 29-20 loss at Iowa, and remains questionable as well for Saturday.
As far as some good things that happened during the bye week was some of the players that have been injured have had the chance to get healthy and also rest their bodies, which have taken on a good amount of wear and tear over the first six games. H-Back Tim Clary, who was feared lost for the season, has been cleared to play and will hopefully return to the field Saturday to be the lead blocker for freshmen Ke'Shawn Vaughn and Henry Enyenehi.
The Badgers (5-2, 2-1) are coming off a gritty 24-7 defeat of Purdue last Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, and for a change, are not relying on their ground game for the majority of the offense. In the past, Wisconsin runners have punished Illinois, whether it was Ron Dayne, or most recently, Melvin Gordon. The Badgers were led on offense by running backs Alec Ingold and Dare Ogunbowale, who each scored for Wisconsin. Ingold rushed for 19 yards on 9 carries, but scored twice, while Ogunbowale fared a little better, carrying the ball 18 times for 56 yards and finding the endzone once. Quarterback Joel Stave, who had a good day from the air, completed 30 of 39 passes for 322 yards, but did not throw any touchdowns. Stave did, however, throw an interception in the win.
For the Illini to come out on top against the Badgers, they will need to neutralize the running game, which they have had difficulty in doing thus far this season.
Since returning home from what seemed like forever on the road, the Fighting Illini women's volleyball team has seen their season hit the skids, for lack of a better term. During that two week span, the Illini have dropped 3 of 4 matches, including ranked teams Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska. The Illini currently find themselves at 12-7 overall, but just 3-5 in Big Ten play, and will once again venture out on the road this weekend, when they travel to Indiana and Purdue. The match with the Hoosiers will be Friday night (6:00 pm CT, No TV), while the game with the Boilermakers will be on Sunday (12:00 noon, ESPN2).
The Fighting Illini women's soccer team is coming off a big win over Nebraska last Sunday in Champaign, and are beginning to wrap up the regular season and hoping to do so with a strong finish. The Illini currently sit at 9-4-3 overall and 3-3-3 in the conference, and will entertain Northwestern on Saturday night for Senior night (6:00 pm CT, No TV), before concluding the regular season in Minneapolis against Minnesota next Wednesday (7:00 pm CT, No TV).
Speaking of injuries, the Fighting Illini basketball team continues to see their fair share of them, and for fourth year head coach John Groce, the casualties are continuing to mount. Already having lost Tracy Abrams for a second straight season, this time with an achilles tear, Groce found out two weeks ago that sophomore Leron Black tore his meniscus in his knee and will be out for a few weeks. As if the news couldn't get any worse, it did with the news last week that guard Kendrick Nunn injured his thumb in a routine practice drill and after having surgery on Wednesday, will be out 8 weeks. Groce's philosophy of the "next man up" takes on an entirely new meaning, because sooner or later, he will run out of bodies. Groce plans to get freshman Jalen Coleman-Lands back soon, and with the first game just a mere three weeks away, the bodies need to heal.
Better break out the bubble wrap. Speaking of wraps, that's a wrap on this week's tour around the Illini sports teams.