Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.

Two Steps Forward.......Three Steps Back.
The rebuild of the Illinois football program continues as they drop a tough 34-31 loss in overtime to Purdue.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Now What?

     The injuries continue to pile up for Bill Cubit's Fighting Illini football squad, and the latest to fall victim is Henry Enyenehi, who is supposedly out for this weekend's game at Purdue (11:00 am CT, BTN).

     In what was a dismal showing last Saturday at Penn State, the Fighting Illini did next to nothing, and the end result was a 39-0 shellacking at the hands of the Nittany Lions in State College, Pennsylvania.  Up until this game, the season was showing signs of promise, and Cubit was beginning to endear the hearts of Illini Nation as a possible successor full time to Tim Beckman, who was let go one week before the season began this year.

     Now, all of that seems moot, as the Illini slog their way into West Lafayette to battle a Boilermaker squad that had their best offensive showing of the season last Saturday in defeating Nebraska 55-45, just the second Big Ten win in the Darrell Hazell era at Purdue. The other conference win for Hazell was last year in Champaign, so the Illini will have revenge on their minds when they battle on Saturday in an attempt to win back the Cannon trophy, the artifact that the two schools play for each time they take the field.

     With Enyenehi's injury, that essentially leaves freshman Ke'Shawn Vaughn as the only healthy player in the backfield, although it remains to be seen if senior Josh Ferguson will return to action this weekend.  Ferguson took part in practice on Wednesday, but a final decision won't be made until sometime on Thursday before the week's injury report is released to the media.

     It is a wonder that quarterback Wes Lunt is still healthy and actually a good thing, because if he wasn't, there's no telling how this Illinois team could put a formidable team on the field.  Lunt has a diminished group of receivers as well to throw to, with both Mikey Dudek and Justin Hardee out of action, and if not for Geronimo Allison, Lunt would be forced to run the ball himself, which he does not do well at all.

     I guess it all boils down to this:  with many players out of action for whatever reason, Cubit has to put a team on the field and hope that they can grab some magic as the season begins its homestretch run.  Illinois (4-4, 1-3) still has aspirations to go to a bowl game, but they still need two wins in order to even become eligible, and probably really need three of the last four games in order to feel good about postseason hopes.  With Purdue, Ohio State, Minnesota and Northwestern still left on the schedule, Throwing out the Ohio State game (for obvious reasons), the Illini still have a chance to win the other three games.  Only the Buckeyes game is in Champaign, so they will need to be road warriors in every sense of the phrase if they plan to be playing past Thanksgiving weekend.

     After a rough stretch of matches, Illinois volleyball head coach Kevin Hambly feels optimistic that his team can rebound and do what they need to in order to reach the NCAA Tournament.  The Illini got off to a good start this past weekend, by defeating Michigan State (3-1) and Michigan (3-0) at Huff Hall in Champaign.  Then, on Wednesday night, the Illini ventured up to Evanston for a mid-week matchup with the Northwestern Wildcats.  The Illini won the first set, and dropped the next two to go down 2-1.  The Illini won the fourth set and the deciding fifth set by a 16-14 score to take the match 3-2.  With the win over the Wildcats, the Illini improve to 16-8 overall and 7-6 in Big Ten play.  The Illini will return the favor this weekend when they host the Wildcats on Saturday evening (7:00 pm CT, No TV).

     Janet Rayfield's Illinois women's soccer team wrapped up regular season play last week, and just sneaked into the Big Ten Tournament as the #8 seed, which gave them a first round matchup at Penn State last Sunday.  The Illini were defeated by the Nittany Lions 3-1. to finish their record heading into the NCAA Tournament selection at 10-6-3 overall and 4-4-3 in conference play.  Illinois will await their fate and hope that their resume is good enough to get one of the bids for the tournament.

     With November on the horizon, it is nearing time for both the mens and womens basketball teams to begin action, and since the State Farm Center is not quite ready for its tenants yet, the two teams will be playing on the road for the first few games.  The men will call the Prairie Capitol Convention Center home through the end of November, and have their first and only exhibition game on Sunday when they play Illinois-Springfield/  The women will be playing at Parkland College and they will also be starting play soon.  The State Farm Center is scheduled to be ready in time for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on December 2nd when Illinois hosts Notre Dame.

     That's all she wrote for this week, folks.  Hope there are no more injuries to the football team between now and the next blog post.

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