Saturday, November 10, 2007

Week #11 Wrap - Battle for the ILLIBUCK

And for the first time since 1956 we beat #1. Down goes BUCKY! And the wooden turtle (ILLIBUCK) goes back to its rightful home in Champaign. Every Oregon fan in the nation should send the Chief his $20.00. The Ducks now own their own destiny. Win out, and they go to New Orleans and the BCS title game. Remember which team put you there - ILLINOIS. Oregon needed a break in the BCS despite two big wins over USC and ASU. Just don't screw it up. The last time a #1 team lost at home was 1998 - Ohio State. And for the first time since 1959 (2nd time ever), both Ohio State and Michigan lost today, one week before the most meaningless rivalry game in the land. Life is good. I can expire a happy man.

In our past 17 games versus #1, we had just three wins to show for our efforts. Make it four! Winning is an attitude - and so is losing. Winning is a culture, and we're building a culture of winning in Champaign under Coach Ron. Yes, we are a wild pack of hyenas on defense. And today we took down the Lion King ending the nation's longest winning streak, including 20-straight conference wins for Ohio State. Yes, Vermont LUVS the ILLINI, and the Chief loves Vermont (GAMEDAY reference from William and Amhurst)! Today's big ILLINI win opens the door for a host of teams to seize the opportunity. Oh my - what a season of CFB.

This was a classic BIG-10 game of ball control, big plays, defense, and big-time hitting on just about every play. We're one of the most physical teams in the nation, and that was clearly on display in Columbus all afternoon today. On a team that gives up just 9.7 points / game, we scored 28. For a team that gives up just 200 yards / game, we lit them up for 400. While Benn was held in check, Mendenhall and JUICE (4TD passes / 0 picks) led the way today - with Williams taking control and having his breakout game as QB. What a turnaround from a year ago, three years ago. With today's win (8-3 on the season), we have more wins in 2007 than in the past four years combined. And with wins over Penn State and Wisconsin, we should finish #3 in the conference; in-line for a 2008 bowl game. The Zooker can coach. Hail to the CHIEF! A year ago the Illini were 2-10, but they showed signs of improvement for the first time in years in a 17-10 loss to No. 1 Ohio State. The year before the Buckeyes beat Illinois 40-2. "We said two years ago when we were here," Zook said, "it would be a different story when we came back."

Message to Coaches - Great job guys, you really had an excellent gameplan for Ohio State. 400 yards, including 260 on the ground is pretty amazing considering the competition today. And the coaching was first-rate; especially on 4th down. The team came ready to play today. Nowhere was that more clear after going down 7-0 early in the game. Keep up the good work. At 8-3, ten wins isn't out of the question this year. And that would result in one of the greatest program turnaounds in CFB history. Realizing potential is a great thing. But in the end, it's really just another win. Let's go for two more this year .... Oskee Wa Wa. I said back last January that this year's club would be going bowlin' and then again in August with a 6-6 record. Needless to say, those expectations have been exceeded with bigger things in sight (like a CAP ONE BOWL appearance against maybe, hmmmm?).

And here comes the BUT....don't be satisfied with beating Ohio State. This shouldn't be a replacement for our eventual championship run i the conference and on the national stage. We should have higher expectations. It's one thing to beat the Ohio States in the world, it's quite another to climb the BIG-10 mountain and remain on top. Championship programs are great because they reload each year for another title run. I'm talking about the four or five elite programs of today: USC, Ohio State, Florida, Texas, and LSU. These clubs bring a swagger or confidence of expecting to win each game and a championship at the end of the year (culture of winning). Anything less constitutes failure / disappointment. When measured against these standards, today's Ohio State victory doesn't quite measure up.

We have a lot more work to do as we close the 2007 season in preparation for 2008. The passing game is a work in progress. The running game can be tuned further. And the kicking game - oh, the kicking game (probably what cost us the Michigan game earlier in Champaign). Not to mention some shoring - up on defense, especially in the secondary. It's true that while we can hit like a ton of bricks, we also cover like them at times on 3rd and long. So, keep your eye on the prize, don't lose focus, play within, expect to win, and do it like you've been there before. Champions make winning big games look easier than it really is. Are you a champion?

Lasting Quotes from the Day / Game:
Late in the game on 4th and inches on our own 33 yard-line, "I will get you an inch," Williams told him. "You better," coach Ron Zook said.

Williams assumed that the ball would be put in the hands of star running back Rashard Mendenhall. Instead, the call was for a quarterback sneak. "I froze up a little," Williams said. "I just said to myself, 'I will get this first down and do all I can for this team.'"

"That doesn't mean he's going to make a lot of major decisions from here on out, but I saw it in his eyes," Zook said.

"Coach told me it's going to be a different story in two years," Williams recalled. "It's going to be a fun experience and it was absolutely true."

"You can't come into the No. 1 team's backyard and not be able to coach," Leman said. "We have talent, but I don't know if we have as much talent as they do. So, it takes coaching."

"I don't have any redemption," he said. "I was asked the question many times with the national championship game (when the Gators played Ohio State last year), I was so happy for those kids because that's what we talked about doing. Obviously it hurt when people question whether you can coach or not but when you believe in something and you know you're doing the right thing, you keep doing it. That's what life is all about."

My New TOP-10 (Elsewhere around the nation):

1) LSU, 2) Oregon, 3) Kansas, 4) Oklahoma, 5) WV, 6) Mizzou, 7) Georgia, 8) Va Tech, 9) USC, 10) Ohio State with your latest BCS rankings here.

BOWL UPDATE - yes, it's getting to be that time of year. LSU / Oregon? Guess where we're (BIG TEN #2) going now and who will be playing if it all pans out? Chomp Chomp in the swamp might offer up a clue.

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