Saturday, September 18, 2010

Two in a Row of Directional Illinois

Quality win today at honme over a game NIU Husky squad from DeKalb. These guys always seem to find a way to go bowling in December. But not today: Good Guys 28 / NIU 22. And the final score was representative of the game itself. It was a defensive struggle until late in the contest.

What impressed me most was the way we got up early, then fell behind, then seized the lead for good and pulled away late. In prior campaigns, this would have been over in the 2nd quarter. And wow, 319 yards on the ground to go along with 70 through the air, and no interceptions. With LeShoure and Ford, we pounded NIU for 6.5 yards / carry with those 470 pounds of rushing mass. We also won the time of possession. I see a formula for success going forward.

On the downside, we have to get a handle on penalties, 8 for 85 yards. Many of these were drive killers. Going forward, we'll need to clean those up if we want to beat the best in the conference and make a serious for a bowl game. Additionally, the defense was effective but ended up yielding 390 yards to a balanced HUSKY attack. And the passing game needs to be more efficient / productive. I don't expect it to win too many games in 2010, but we have to do better than 50% and 70 yards.

Next week is our bye before we open-up confernce play in November against Ohio State.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Natural Ability - Week 2

Well, that's why they play the games. Spring camps, summer camps, and the first week mean little if you don't back it up with your play in WEEK 2. And while my Fighting Illini let one get away last week in St. Louis against Mizzou, we took it to the #2 team in the FCS (SIU) today in the house of paign - Memorial Stadium. You can't keep a good man down for long, or the CHIEF.

Natural ability is what I'm talking about. When you play smart football with speed and strength, doing what comes naturally instead of only thinking or reacting to the action on the field. We did a lot of things well tonight against SIU, but still have room for improvement heading into week 3 next week at home against NIU. Turnovers in the passing game (INTS) need to go away. Good win yes, but are we done? No.

As for the good, the running game under Mikel LeShoure continues to look really good. Year in and year out under Zook, we're one of the strongest running programs in the nation, averaging more than 5 ypc behind one of the biggest offensive lines in the country (averaging 309 lbs. and 6'6"). That will need to remain our bread and butter this year if we're going to have success. The passing game will be useful, but the rushing attack will need to lead the way - especially in conference when the weathe turns cooler and wetter.

As for more good, the defense continues to play hard and fast. Violent hands. SIU put up 70 points last week against Quincy. This team went 11-2 last year in the MVC. We challenge everything on this side of the ball. We are physical at every layer, up front, in the middle, and deep back. When you understand the system and schemes, it's amazing how fast you can play. I haven't seen this intensity from the boys in several years under Zook. We only gave up 112 yards in the first half to the Salukis, #2 FCS team in the land. Nurse, Thomas, Leguit, Henry, Bellamy, Bussey, Wilson, and company came up huge all night, especially in the red zone when it matters most. I like the mentality this year on that side of the ball. Good things happen when you swarm to the ball. We have been doing that well so far this year.

And how about the battery of Scheelhaase (QB) and Jenkings (WR) this year? Nathan looks more comfortable with each and every snap. Nate reminds me of a smaller Pryor, very elusive and crafty on his feet. And Ford / Leshoure (465 pounds combined) will continue to batter defenses all season in the running game. Mikel is our bell-cow, feed your meat. And welcome to the show Mr. Evan Wilson and Justin Lattimore in the passing game. Huge.

But the most important thing offensively is to recognize who we are, what are strengths are, and where we want to be as a football squad. Petrino screwed up the second half against the TIGERS last weekend with the play calling, but he made amends tonight against a pretty game SIU club from Carbondale. Road-grating. Laying the rock. Pounding it and throwing when needed. That is the recipe for success for this 2010 club.

Week 2 Suprises and letdowns?
1) Michigan, specifically Denard Robinson, and his ability to lead that young Wolverine club with his legs and arm. Heisman front-runner right now.
2) Va. Tech losing to James Madison. Looks like Boise State beat the Hokies twice, and perhaps once too many. Broncos didn't need VA TECH losing today and hurting their BCS chances. In addition to the Hokies, you can add Miami, FSU, and Penn State to this list of under-achievers in WEEK 2. All were disappointing to me.
3) Illinois - a slightly biased pick perhaps. But nonetheless, we steam-rolled #2 FCS SIU at home, 35-3. And it wasn't really that close. Up next Norther Illinois.
4) Random observations - BYU is struggling with its 2QB system. Notre Dame can't win without Crist at the helm. Iowa, Wisconsin, and Sparty all look strong. And the Ducks are on the verge of something special unless it blows up.
5) And what about the ACC? Four ranked teams fell this Saturday in Va. Tech, FSU, Miami, and Georgia Tech. Ugh - not a good day for the that conference.

Updated Top-10 (Week 2) -

1) Alabama - Continue to roll and barely broke a sweat against Penn State.
2) Ohio State - Very impressive on both sides of the ball against the CANES.
3) Boise State - Off this week, but they deserve a rest and no travel.
4) Oklahoma - Big bounceback win at home over FSU.
5) TCU - Two impressive wins in a row. This team is so physical and determined.
6) Oregon - On the verge of a special season including a shot at the national title.
7) Nebraska - Defense looks really good. Offense is efficient. Good combo.
8) Iowa - Best D in the conference. Strong running game. Vet QB. All good things.
9) Texas - Two easy wins so far at home. 10/2 with OU around the corner.
10) Wisconsin - Will pound you and your mom to death all night long.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Week 1 - New Year / New Hope!

So, let me start off by saying we don't play Samford, Arkansas State, Western Kentucky, or New Mexico to open the season. We are Illinois football; we play winners! Really, 72-0 Oregon? I mean come on already. Respect the game. Schedule some competition. The Ducks could have easily scored 100 today. Ugh!

That being said, a loss is a loss, or is it? Sure, we only played 30 minutes today and lost 23-13 to those hapless Missouri Tigers. Yes, we gave away another game with 3 INTS and 1 fumble, all by the QB. But, there were signs for optimism and the rest of the 2010 football season, especially with the defense.

For starters, we won the first half (13-3). Yes, we held one of the nation's most prolific offenses to just 3 points in the opening 30 minutes. And, our place kicker made his first 50-yard attempt of the season (1-1) at 52 yards. And the running game is in great shape. Mikel posted 112 yards on 20 carries. We should average 200 yards / game to lead the conference again in 2010 just like we have for the past four years under Zook. As matter of fact, we're annually ove of the leading rushing teams in the nation (a good thing).

As for the bad, yes - there is some of that. Take away the four turnovers by red-shirt freshmen Nathan Scheelhaase, and we win this game today. He has to do a better job of protecting the rock. Run it. And stop the run. And you win 95% of the time in CFB. It's that simple. With the hawgs up front, we can run it. Our secondary has to get better on defense both in the run support and in the passing game to see some improvement.

I expect these things to happen in the next two to three weeks before we host Ohio State and travel to Happy Valley. Zooker has to get the next two at home against Northern and Southern. The schedule gets a lot tougher later this month for sure.

But, back to the positive. This is a different ILLINI squad. We have discipline. We have speed from sideline to sideline. And we are in shape as a football team. Three weeks in Rantoul have really paid off this summer. The 17-play opening drive that resulted in 3 points is a great example of pounding the rock and ball control. But, we need to convert them into TD's and NOT FG's. Paul Petrino's offense is much better / more disciplined this year when compared to the past few seasons. Execution is better. Schemes are better. We are more physical on that side of the ball for sure.

As for the defense, it was side to sideline all afternoon chasing after the football. I saw much more aggressive and swarming play. We held the high-powered Mizzou offense to under 300 yards passing and 100 yards total rushing. The Tigers are going to put up points and win games this year, for sure. But this was our best defensive effort in quite some time. I only expect it to get better each week going forward. And that could pay dividends later in the season against the best teams and and out of conference. We have a score to settle with Fresno later this year.

Who Surprised the Chief this week?

1) MWC - yes the Mountain West continues its excellent early-season play. BYU, TCU, and UTAH all beat BCS / AQ teams this weekend.
2) Michigan - yes BIG BLUE rolled UCONN today in a game most experts had going the other way. Robinson seems to have control of this Rich-Rod offense. Side note, 113K folks at the game Saturday, largest attendance ever for a football game.
3) Notre Dame - Big win for the Irish over Purdue at home. They made big plays all day when they were needed. Attention to details.

Who Disappointed the Chief today?

1) Ole Miss / Masoli - Only 5 rushing yards in an opening home-loss to Jacksonville State. Ouch!
2) LSU - playing a depleted UNC squad in the Georgia Dome, the Bayou Bengals nearly blew a 20-point advantage late in the game. Where has the LSU defense gone?
3) Florida / Oklahoma - take your pick. Both struggled and looked inept at times against inferior talent. Just ask Stoops. Sooners were fortunate to survive against Utah State. Ouch!

My First Top-10 of 2010:

1) Alabama - the cream of the SEC this year.
2) Ohio State - ditto for the BIG-10.
3) Boise State - Wow! I am a Bronco Believer after last nite. Bronco-UP!
4) Nebraska - this might just be Nebraska's greatest BIG-12 moment.
5) Iowa - Yes, the Hawkeyes look for real this year. Nobody has a better defense.
6) TCU - Kudos for playing a tough Beaver squad in its opener. BCS buster!
7) Texas- Still too early for me to really ride the longhorn bandwagon.
8) Florida - ditto for Urban's boys. Lots of questions on offense.
9) Oregon - 72 to zip? What? 720 total yards. Could have been worse for NM.
10) Virginia Tech - close loss to a BCS worthy Bronco-Team. Great start.

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