Saturday, October 01, 2011

Zooker Comeback against the Fighting Pat Fitzgerald's

In year's past, this would have been another tale of paper champions and tee-shirt all-Americans. If you told me before kick-off that we would have three turnovers, 8 penalties, and only 82 yards rushing today against the CATS with less time of possesion, I would have guaranteed a Northwestern victory. And, it would have been a story of letdown, under-achievement, another disappointment, heartache, and coming up short yet again. Not this year. Not this time. For the first time in what seems like forever (1951 our last national championship), the Fighting Zookers are now 5-0 heading into week #2 of conference play. Yes, this was truly a historic victory, winning our BIG-10 opener for the first time since 2k7, our Rose Bowl Season. Heck, it was just our 2nd BIG-10 victory in a conference opener in our last 18 games. Wow!

What else can I say? Twas our 3rd-straight 4th-quarter comeback this year for the cardiac kids. And every one of these you pull out makes you better now and going forward. Trailing late in the in the 3rd quarter 28-10, it was a gutty comeback at home on homecoming to pull of the victory. Jenkins and Scheelhaase led the way, both having career afternoons. The battery carried is to four late touchdowns and the 38-35 victory. Nate threw for 391 on 21 of 32 with 3 TD's, all to A.J. Jenkins. The senior stud wide-out from Jacksonville, FL totaled 268 receiving yards on 12 receptions, proving he is one of the best in the conference if not the nation.

It was an up and down afternoon. There were moments in the 2nd and 3rd quarters where I was thinking, as we all were, here we go again. Maybe it is time to end the Zooker experiment and start fresh in 2012? Just when you want to give up on the guy. Just when you think he's down and out. His team rises up and finds a way to get it done.

There are some serious issues we need to address on both sides of the ball if we plan to make a deep run in the LEADERS division. We are a flawed team that makes too many penalties and too many untimely turnovers. If we expect to beat the better teams in the division and conference, we'll have to clean those up. Starting with defense, we have to eliminate the stupid (Zooker) penalties like freak personal fouls and getting late off the field of play. Ugh! The secondary needs to get better fast. Persa had way too many easy big plays for touchdowns because of blown coverages and confusion in the secondary. At times it was keytone cops.

On offense, we need to asses our schemes. Are we a spread-option attack or not? I would argue the latter. For most of the game we fooled nobody with one botched delayed hand-off after another. Jason Ford may be a senior, but he shows me more and more that he is not a go-to back in this offense. We need to start giving the rock more and more to Donovan Young, freshmen from Houston. At times, the offense still plays out of sync. Our play-calling was suspect, especially when you have an all-American at wide-out in #8, A.J. Jenkins. The college game shouldn't be that complicated: get your ball to your play-makers in space and let the recruiting take over from there. We have athletes and it's OK to showcase their talents.

Going forward, maybe a win like this will lead to something special. We travel to Bloomington next weekend to take on an up-and-coming Hoosier squad who gave Penn State all they wanted today and then some. Still, I expect us to be significant favorites in that match-up. I think we have more athletes than they do at just about every position. But, in conference play, especially on the road, you can taking nothing for granted. Would it be nice to get to 6-0 in early October? Sure, we haven't done that in a while. And yes, the schedule is favorable this year with both Ohio State and Wisconsin at home in the friendly confines of venerable Memorial Stadium.

Onward young ILLINI! On know the coaching staff reads this blog on a regular basis, so here are my latest insights on how to improve. One game at at time. That November 19th showdown in Champaign is starting to look more and more important. Both teams have a decent shot at being un-defeated when Wisconsin comes to town.

1) Hey Petrino, the spread option shit isn't working. 2.2 YPC, really? Find out who we are. What is our identify? Are we a running team? A passing team? A spread attack? An option team? Or a pro-style set on offense? I think the answer is starting to emerge. Let's move away from the cloudy / muddy spread attack for a while. The passing game is too good to ignore right now.

2) Speed up the tempo on offense. The slow and predictable snap counts and play selections aren't getting us out in front. And we can't expect to comeback from 18 points in 2nd half every game this year.

3) Get the ball in the hands of our play-makers more often. On offense, that is Nate, Donovan, and A.J. Mr. Harris is also starting to emerge as another wide-out threat.

4) Stiffen - up on defense, especially in the secondary. We got burned several times today on deep balls against our backs who were out of position time and time again. Against the better QB's in the league and around the nation, we will get torched for big plays unless some scheme changes and/or improvements are made.

And,my updated TOP-10:

Who'd you play? Where did you play them? And, who'd you beat?

1) Alabama / LSU - two programs that are clearly above the rest.
2) LSU / ALABAMA - left hand and right hand of same body.
3) Wisconsin - perhaps the only team out there who can beat #1 or #2.
4) OKLAHOMA - good program for Stoops. But not his best.
5) Boise State - just keep winning and will just keep falling here and in BCS.
6) Stanford - Cardinal is all about one man, and he's really good.
7) Clemson - Anybody have three better wins this year than the TIGERS?
8) Oregon - Off week, but still mighty explosive.
9) Texas - Welcome back Longhorns after beating a really good Iowa State team in Ames.
10) Michigan - Yes, the Wolverines break into the Top-10 aftter this weekend's insanity.

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