Saturday, October 31, 2009

Week 9 - Back in the Winner's Column, Finally!

You know, I woke up this morning feeling a bit odd. Sure, it's Halloween and that would have been an easy explanation. Perhaps it was because the Stink Bugs had their last soccer game of the season. Or perhaps I had a feeling. The smell of upset was in the air. Today felt like the day we would get our first 'real' win of the year at the hands of an opponent we hadn't beaten in Champaign since 1983, 26 years ago not counting the 3-3 tie result in 1985. As they say, all bad things must come to an end - including this nightmare of a season. Although, I was beginning to have my doubts. No more! For the first time since '57/'58, we have back to back wins over BIG BLUE and the EVIL EMPIRE. That's how big today's win was for this year's team!

And while a bowl game still seems like a pipe dream, especially with the toughtest schedule in the BIG-10 and 10th most difficult nationally, today's victory in Champaign over Mighty BIG BLUE was a good first step in reconstructing the program. I still stand by the motto that nobody does less with more than Illinois football. By any account, this season has been a total disaster, so far. But, with four games left we have the opportunity to improve in all facets of the game as we essentially begin preparations for the 2010 campaign. Next week we're off to Minnesota with a difficult trip to Cincinnati on the schedule in late November, sandwiched in between Northwestern and Fresno State at home. Oye!

But for tonight, we're back in the winners column with a decent win against an upstart Michigan program (FCS competition). Hence, the blog is back up and running. We dominated teh TOP at just over 35 minutes to their 25. Same thing with turnovers, going +3 on the day. Additionally, we got after it on both sides of the line totalling four sacks on the day compared to just 7 for the season. Impressively, we had almost 400 yards on the ground today (377 to be exact) on just 56 attempts. You do the math (6.7 ypc). The passing attack was effective, although limited going just 8 for 11 and 1TD to amass 123 yards through the air. Still, the combined 500 yards of total offense to their 377 total yards translated into the comfy 38-13 victory at home.

LeShoure was a horse toting the rock 21 times for 160 yards, but Hawthorne's TD-saving tackle inside the 1 yard-line was the single play that changed the outcome of the game, and perhaps the season. Actually, we had three rushers break 100 yards on the afternoon with Juice and Jason Ford each posting robust rushing stats. But after Hawthorne's never-die tackle the subesquent goal-line stand, we couldn't be stopped. Before that defensive effort, Michigan had our offense in check and seemed to be in route to another road win in Champaign. As they say, not so fast my friend. We'll see where that play and this win takes us down the stretch with four to go. Could be a season - changer, or not.

So I ask, where has this been all year? Honestly, I think the new offense this year has been a significant distraction, to say the least. Anytime you get rid of the old for the new you run the high risk of taking a few steps back. No doubt, we have more raw football talent on offense than 90% of all FBS school's in America! Don't take this the wrong way; today's win doesn't mean all is right with Illinois football. Far from it. At this point in the season, I would have expected to be 6-2 instead of 2-6 had you asked me back in August. We still made a ton of mistakes today on both sides of the ball (gave up 4 sacks, missed a bunch of easy tackles, dropped too many balls, had a bunch of 3 and outs, etc....). We'll need to clean all of this up by next week if we have any chance on the road against Minnesota. As they say, one game at a time. 2-6 is a lot better than 1-7. I know we have the raw skills got accomplish the task in front of us. That's college football - a different game every week. And it's one reason why I love it. There are few sports anymore where players and teams compete with more un-adulterated effort. And absolutely, one play can change a game and a season. Question is, have we learned to put that all together week in and out to mold a team that's capable of winning each and every time it takes the field?

And finally, a little West-Coast love tonight to the Ducks of Oregon for taking down the Mighty Trojans in Eugene, quite impressively. It looks to me that the USC domination of the PAC-10 is over, ast least for 2009. Oregon controls their own PAC-10 destiny, and maybe more with the BCS. And thank you Wake Forest for first blowing a 17-0 and then a 27-14 lead at home against Miami. Ugh! But the muffed punt on your own 2 yard-line was the coup de gras! Oye!

My Top-10:

  1. Florida - I've been saying it all year that until somebody beats the Gators.

  2. Texas - Nobody is playing better football right now, except for maybe Oregon.

  3. Alabama - winning ugly isn't pretty but gets the job done with the computers.

  4. Oregon - big move up this week after beating one of the best this decade.

  5. Cincy - this team is well-balanced all around. Not sure they lose another game this year.

  6. TCU - who has a more impressive resume this year? Horned Frogs are legit busters!

  7. Georgia Tech - Ramblin' Wreck just gets it done week in and out. Can they be stopped?

  8. Boise State - Sorry Broncos, you are 2nd-fiddle to #6 right now. Keep winning a soft schedule.

  9. LSU - Bayou Bengals rolled today against Tulane on SEC speed on defense.

  10. Iowa -A good team that is living on borrowed time. Destiny?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

My Final Illini Football Blog?

I said last week would be it for the Chief after what had to be one of our worst defeats in football history at the hands of Ohio State on that cold and rainy fall afternoon in Columbus (30-0). No, I haven't forgotten. I just can't go out on a negative note.

To start out, the problem with Illinois football in its current state is a committment to winning; and I don't necessarily mean just by the coaching staff and players. Defend your house. Become bowl eligible. Win your conference, and compete for a national championship. At this level, competitive football is about executing the little things well on a consistent basis. Sure, that means running, tackling, catching, and getting into postion.

It also means a true committment to building a winning program by the President, Chancellor, Board of Directors, AD, and the general administration. While there are few Universities in this great nation equal to the academic excellence of the University of Illinois, I question the institution's committment to excelling in amateur athletics. When was the last time Illinois really lived up to its true potential much less closed the deal by securing a major national title? To cut to the chase, I find it utterly amazing as an alumnus that with all of the resources at our disposal (monetary, recruting hot-beds, and mind-power), we can't furnish a more competitive product year over year.

There's no reason why we're not ranked in the TOP-25 each and every year in both basketball and football, for example. But that shouldn't be our ideal state. No, major college athetics are about winning championships. To do that even every now and then, you have to construct programs by establishing milestones and meeting them regularly. When we fall short, an after-action review is in order to determine possible reasons why - not to punish, but to continuously improve by making the little changes over time that add up to victory, on and off the field. Instead, I see satisfaction with the status quo. A perilous position to take in today's highly competitive landscape where you're either moving forward or falling back.

As for the rest of this year, I know we still went to Pasadena in 2008 after losing two league games and one non-conference game in 2007, but losing like this in 2009 really pains me. Afterall, there was a time not too long ago (58 years ago plus or minus), when Illinois football meant something in the BIG-10 and on the national scene. Much in the same way dinosaurs once roamed the earth, the BIG-10 and the Illinois beat-up on the opposition regularly, especially from the PAC-10 (current self-proclaimed conference of champions). To go along with five national football titles (yes, I'm counting all of them pre-dating WWII), we have sixteen conference championships or co-championships (latest being 2007).

Sure, our bowl record isn't great (6-9 overall in fifteen appearances), but we own a winning record in the Grand-Daddy (3-2) with unforgettable Rose-Bowl victories over UCLA in 1946 (45-14), Stanford in 1951 (40-7), and Washington in 1963 (17-7). That 1951 squad was something special. Yes, there was a time when men were men, we drank our coffee black, only dated women, and Illinois football meant something. Oh, how I urn for a return to those glory days. Caution, video content at this link has been known to evoke a salty tear or two, with just a tint of orange & blue. Until next time, travel safely my friends (and foes), take care, and Oskee Wa Wa Illinois!

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