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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