Saturday, October 06, 2007

Week 6 Wrap - Statement Delivered.

Each week is a learning oppportunity. Each week is a test. Each week is a statement. Who's back in the BIG -10 race for the first time in 6 years? Who's tied for the conference lead with Ohio State? Yes indeedy - the CHIEF is back after it's HUGE win today 31-26 over an overrated Wisconsin club. Not sure where we'll be ranked come Sunday, but I know the Badgers won't be in the TOP-10 any time soon. Here's your RECAP. For the first time since 1990 we're 3-0 in the conference (a year we won a share of the conference title).

Wow - we left nothing in the tank or on the sidelines today on Zupke Field in Memorial Stadium (under construction). And we left no doubt, Illinois is for real in 2k7. Sure, the Badgers were probably not a top-5 team, but a win is a win in the BIG-10 conference. It was our first win over a top-5 teams since 1989 (over USC; 14-13 good guys). Is there a better rushing team in the land? And how about Rahsard Mendenhall? He has to be considered in the Heisman discussion right about now. I first told you about him last year and then again earlier this year. He had 160 more yards today on just 19 carries and 3 TDs. Wow, that's impressive against a pretty stout Badger D. And when asked about Rashard, here's what their stud cornerback had to say,

"That guy's got muscles," Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu said. "He's just a hard runner."

RMIII is just a rushing freak averaging 6.8 yds/carry on 119 attempts (772 for the season) which is good enough for 7th in the nation behind Hart and McFadden. It's not like he's doing his damage against cream-puff clubs either. Penn State and Wisconsin are known to play the run well. He is indeed in rare air near the top of that list. As a team my young ILLINI are 5th in the nation right now behind Navy, Arkansas, WV, and Oregon - averagin 262 yards / game on the ground. That's also some pretty lofty company. Passing game is another story altogether.

But, back to the game, I know what you're thinking - it wasn't pretty. We didn't dominate. But we laid a ZOOKER on 'em. Give credit where credit is due already. Ron Zook has taken more heat over the years (FIRERONZOOK.COM) than just about any other coach. Today he delivered. We believe Ronnie; we believe. The aforementioned rushing game is premier, the defense is good, and our kicking game is fairly solid. Zooker has sought out and delivered SEC speed to Champaign in the BIG-10. It's been a while since I've seen that many monster hits on the field. It was a fierce game for the competitiors on both sides of the ball. Once the passing game comes around we'll be scary good. Juice did OK today throwing the rock before he went out with a ding (12/19 for 121 and 1 TD). Not bad, but not great. He missed several open receivers down field today. That has to be corrected and fixed soon. We won't challenge for the BIG-10 title or a BCS game until we find more balance on offense. It's not good enough NOT to be liability; throwing the ball has to be an asset going forward. But, when it mattered most (2nd half, game on the line), the defense really stepped it up today making more big plays than it gave up. Sure we had some lapses on 3rd and long & 4th down. And yes, personal fouls aren't going to help you in big games. But led by Leman and Davis, the 'D' stood its ground today when it mattered most in the 4th quarter - protecting the house.

Elsewhere around the nation, what is going on in CFB this year? Down goes USC and here come the IRISH! Wow - that Trojan loss caught me totally off guard. I guess Les Miles (LSU Coach) was right afterall. And how about Jim Harbaugh after his pre-season comments about USC (possibly being the greatest team ever)? I wouldn't want to play poker with him. His Cardinals are playing hard for him right now. That was a great ending to the game (4th down catch in the endzone). Unbelievable! No more PAC-10 love from me. The conference is overrated top down to the bottom. It's not a bad conference, but there's the SEC and everybody else right now. We'll see what happens going forward. Still a lot of ball to play (it's not even November yet).

OK, so with all of the action and upsets over the past few weeks what does it all me? Let me tell you. Watchout LSU. You may be next. I haven't seen a year like this in quite some time. Pretty much take the TOP-25 and put it in the spin cycle a few times. Rankings don't seem to matter much at home or on the road. It's good for the game. Parity has arrived and will likely next for a while. I don't see this trend changing anytime soon. Limits on scholarships has helped some. But more and more coaches are finding great talent from all over the country. And, even more than that - they're learning how to get the most out of their players each and every play. More and more teams are moving away from the conventional 'I-formations' in favor of just about anything else. Games are more exciting as big plays seem to be the norm instead of the exception. Adaptability is the key. Having a ton of speed doesn't hurt either.

OK, so here's my top 10 this week (not likely to remain this way for long):

1) LSU, 2) Ohio State, 3) BC, 4) Oklahoma, 5) CAL, 6) West Virginia, 7) Florida, 8) Va Tech, 9) South Carolina, 10) Arizona State. Look for Illinois to crack into the TOP-25 this week.

Other interesting tid-bits and notes:

  • Losing to Standford at home ended the Trojan's 35 - game winning streak in the Coleseum (last home loss, yep - to Stanford).
  • 14 games done. Illinois ended the Badger's 14-game streak in Champaign yesterday. That's special.
  • Texas, with two straight conference losses the Horns are reeling. Now 0-2 in the BIG-12 for the first time since 1956.

Finally, some lasting quotes from today's Illinois victory in Champaign:

On being a team win: "This is not just one group of guys or one group of coaches. It's everybody. It takes everybody. I'm so proud of how they've come together and tried to make this a special year and they have done it." - Ron Zook.

On how effective the Illini was against the Wisconsin defense: "The guys in blue were pretty good. I think they're strong runners, the quarterback has good size in addition to being quick and they can make you miss tackles. As coaches, we can't accept those things. We just have to get more hats to the ball and we have to do something when we get there. " - Bret Bielma (Wisconsin Head Coach).

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