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?

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