Saturday, October 21, 2006

Your Weekly Illini Update - More Wasted Chances in Unhappy Valley

Another tough ILLINI loss today - this time on the road. We doubled them up on offense (360-180 yards) before we gift-wrapped the Nittany Lions a Homecoming victory. Ugh! It was a lot closer than the final score (26-12). But, a loss is a loss, and that makes three in a row. This was another opportunity that we let slip through our hands. A little better, and we win this game. Penn State had no business walking away with the victory. Their offense was held in check most of the afternoon by the much-improved ILLINI defense which deserved a much better outcome. But yet again, no victory for ILLINOIS in Beaver Stadium. Our offense just couldn't convert the opportunities we had today. We're getting better, but still have a long way to go.

Too many wasted chances for my young ILLINI in the first half of this game. How many dropped passes did we have today when we really needed them? Those were drive enders. We won the field-position in the first 30 minutes but really struggled with it in the 2nd half, including the fumble which was returned against us for six - Ugh! We should have left the field in the first-half leading 17-3. Instead, we just had 3 field goals which is no way to upset a team on the road in the BIG-10. You gotta convert those opportunities by finding ways to put 6 up on the board instead of 3. And, you can't fumble on your 5 and let that go the other way for a defensive TD. Ugh!

Another big moment in the game today was when we came out after the break with the lead and the ball, driving deep into Penn State territory with the running game under Mendenhall and Williams. Then, we got greedy and went for the big play down the middle only to have it picked off to end the drive and change the momentum of the game. CFB is all about momentum - that was big. The option game was working well for us all afternoon. Penn State didn't have an answer for Williams and Mendenhall. 204 yards in just 3 quarters of football on the ground. You gotta stick with what works for ya. Wasted performance.

I've been hard on my ILLINI football team this year, admittedly so. But this team is getting better each and every week, especially on defense. We're 14 points better per game on defense this year compared to last year - big improvement over 40 points / game. The offense is starting to click and we're becoming more competitive with each snap. This team has a long way to go, but I really think we're on the right track under Coach Zook. The team is playing with more passion and excitement on both sides of the ball and special teams. I believe that we'll be much more competitive next year with a full year of growth under our belt. Who knows, a bowl game might not be out of the question in 2k7.

Mark these words: Rashard Mendenhall will make a statement in the BIG-10 and possibly nationally, if not next year then in 2k8. This guy has the potential to be the best RB at ILLINOIS - and that's saying something. He has the size, the power, and the breakaway speed to be a big-time playmaker for the Fighting Zookers for years to come. Same for Juice Williams - true freshen. He's probably the most atheletic QB in the conference and maybe in the nation - including Troy Smith. Don't get me wrong, he's just a freshem QB right now. And, I'm not saying he's as good as Troy Smith or even some of the others. His future is all about potential, especially when his passing game comes around. He needs to learn the college game and better decision making. But the potential is there on offense with McPhearson and Warren on the outside. This team is going to be dangerous next year and should challenge for the BIG-10 crown in 2k8, if not sooner. Okee Wa Wa Illinois. Hail to the chief!

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