Posted on: October 8, 2011 6:14 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2011 6:16 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
ILLINOIS WON. 19th-ranked Illinois spotted Indiana an early 10-0 lead, then overpowered the Hoosiers en route to an easy 41-20 victory.
WHY ILLINOIS WON: Indiana has a crippling dearth of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and that was evident today as Illinois racked up 523 yards of offense in a balanced attack, overwhelming the Hoosiers over the course of the game. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the winning effort, and he also rushed for 88 yards and another score. Indiana simply had no answer for Scheelhaase on Saturday.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON: On a 4th and goal from the 3 yard line and having just seen its lead turn into a 14-10 deficit, Indiana trotted out kicker Mitch Ewald for the chip shot field goal. It was good, Illinois maintained its lead, and the Hoosiers were never heard from again.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON: The Illini are now bowl eligible, running their record to 6-0 on the season heading into a key matchup with Ohio State next week. It also has a claim on the best QB-WR combo in the conference with the Nathan Scheelhaase-A.J. Jenkins tandem running wild on the competition. And the defense? Not too shabby. Yep, Ron Zook's having a two-thumbs-up season all around, and he's not afraid to tell the world about it.
WHAT INDIANA LOST: This wasn't really a winnable game for Indiana, all things considered; the Hoosiers just don't have that kind of talent yet. At the very least, though, it got to experience life with a lead in Big Ten play -- and to see what kind of effort it takes to maintain that lead against an offensive attack like the Illini's. So this was more of a "teaching moment" than a moral victory -- as if such a thing could exist in a 21-point loss.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Scheelhaase completed 12 passes: six to Jenkins, six to the rest of the team. Jenkins' six catches were for 182 yards and two scores; the rest of the team managed 28 yards and one score. A.J. Jenkins IS the Illinois downfield attack, and he's awfully good at his job.
Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:26 am
Edited on: October 2, 2011 12:07 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. Wisconsin should probably go undefeated this year. Seventh-ranked Wisconsin faced its first stiff test of the season, as No. 8 Nebraska came to town for a night game at Camp Randall in the Big Ten opener for both schools. Wisconsin treated Nebraska like just another speed bump, crushing the Huskers 48-17 in a game that saw the Badgers outscore Nebraska 41-3 in the last 33 minutes of play. It was equal parts savage, brilliant, and awe-inspiring -- the type of game that only great teams play.
Wisconsin's slate from here on out is heavy on intriguing road games, but if Nebraska can't even keep the game within 30 points, what hope would Ohio State or Illinois or anybody else left on the schedule have of winning a game against the Badgers? Russell Wilson can basically do whatever he wants on offense, and with a duo of tailbacks like Montee Ball and James White behind him, the Wisconsin attack is basically as complete as offenses can get.
So yes, Wisconsin should go undefeated this year. That would be quite welcome, especially if it ends in a game against whoever takes the SEC between LSU and Alabama. Would the SEC team win? Possibly. Plausibly. Probably. I'd sure like to see that determined on the field of play, and doubtless so would Wisconsin fans.
2. That team that just got wrecked by 31 points is still probably going to win its division. I don't know what's more infuriating -- that Nebraska has underperformed so badly in every game this season that they're probably just plain average as a whole, or that this average Nebraska team is still a favorite to win the Legends Division. Michigan's on a roll but has a nasty back half of the schedule, Michigan State has a brutal schedule and only managed 10 points against the Ohio State defense, Northwestern has major defensive issues to work out, Iowa struggles mightily against mobile quarterbacks while playing in a division full of them, and Minnesota... no.
Of course, the actual most likely result of this traffic jam of mediocrity is five teams tied at 4-4 and Minnesota eating paste at 0-8. This is the result I will be openly rooting for. because nothing would be funnier than Jim Delany taking a look at that situation, taking a look at Wisconsin, and then just canceling the First Ever Big Ten Championship Game and just handing the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin. And nobody would think that was the wrong thing to do.
3. Whatever you thought about the quarterback situation at Ohio State, I assure you, it's actually worse. Joe Bauserman was Ohio State's leading passer on Saturday, and if that doesn't sound troubling, please consider that Bauserman didn't enter the game until early in the fourth quarter, and he threw for all of 87 yards. Starter Braxton Miller, meanwhile, passed for 56 yards (not just on one drive, for the entire game), lost 27 on the ground, and led the OSU offense to all of six first downs in the first three quarters. The Buckeye faithful were booing early and often in this game, and while they generally weren't booing Miller himself, it certainly stands to reason that the mood at the 'Shoe would have been far more jovial if Terrelle Pryor had still been under center.
It didn't help that the Michigan State defensive front was teeing off on Miller, and generally overwhelming the Buckeye offensive line in the process, but it's just shocking that Ohio State could have such a dearth of production at the quarterback position like this. Miller's got talent, but is in no way game-ready, whereas Bauserman looks like someone who just doesn't belong on a two-deep of a BCS-level team. This is a personnel problem for Luke Fickell and Ohio State, and personnel problems like these don't generally solve themselves mid-season.
4. At this rate, Illinois might actually enjoy endgame pressure. Illinois is 5-0 for the first time in 60 years, and it's doing so at the expense of the cardiac health of Ron Zook and all the Illini fans. For the third straight week, Illinois won a game by three points, and for the third straight week, it needed to take the lead late in the fourth quarter and hang on for dear life. This week's victim was Northwestern, who capitalized on a Jason Ford fumble and drove for a go-ahead score with 75 seconds left ... only to see Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins drive the ball down the field with ease and punch the ball in for the game-winning score with 13 seconds left.
It's too early to start making assumptions about Illinois' postseason fate as yet, because if the Illini keep getting into these 50-50 late-game situations, the odds are pretty low that they'll keep winning them consistently. And with games like home dates with Ohio State and Michigan -- not to mention a road match at Penn State -- still on the schedule, Illinois probably isn't even near done with the close contests yet this season. But perhaps it does, and perhaps the games won't be close, and perhaps Ron Zook -- he of the hottest seat in the Big Ten six weeks ago -- has another 10-win season up his sleeve just yet. Perhaps. We're at least on the right road for that to happen, at least.
5. Pssst... Michigan might be legitimate. Maybe. As long as Minnesota keeps proving itself to be far more MAC-worthy than BCS conference-caliber, it's going to be useless to read much into a team's performance beating the Gophers -- even the final score is 58-0. And yes, Michigan started 5-0 last year too and that season still ended with Rich Rodriguez fired. That's all true. The problem, though, is that Michigan started 5-0 in 1997 and it just so happened to finish 12-0 and win a national championship, and most teams that start 5-0 don't end up giving up the most points in program history and firing their coach.
So while it's easy to just say "But 2010" whenever someone mentions the fact that Michigan is still undefeated, there's one difference that's crucial to point out: the defense is showing up too. Last season, Michigan gave up over 25 points per game in its first five games. This year? 10.2. Yes, it's relevant that 31 points came against Notre Dame in a game the Wolverines had zero business winning and 20 came against tomato cans like Eastern Michigan and Minnesota, but consider that Michigan also spanked Western Michigan 34-10, and that's a Broncos team that came up just shy in a 23-20 loss at Illinois and just took a 38-31 win at Connecticut. So yes, given the context we've got, Michigan is not just pulling a 2010.
I still don't think Michigan survives that brutal November that awaits, and it's possible that with Dan Persa and Kirk Cousins looming as opposing quarterbacks in the next two games, Michigan might take a 5-2 (1-2) record into its bye week. But 6-1 (2-1) is more likely now, and being undefeated through seven games is definitely on the table. That's good news in Ann Arbor, especially when everyone else in the Legends division is staring at major problems that need fixing. But that's a topic best left for November; for now, Michigan would do well to focus on the next game in front of it.
Tags: A.J. Jenkins, Adam Jacobi, Alabama, Big Ten, Braxton Miller, Eastern Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, James White, Jason Ford, Joe Bauserman, LSU, Luke Fickell, MAC, MIchigan, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Montee Ball, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Rich Rodriguez, Ron Zook, Russell Wilson, SEC, Terrelle Pryor, Week 5, Western Michigan, What I Learned
Posted on: October 1, 2011 4:56 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
WHY ILLINOIS WON: A.J. Jenkins was an unstoppable demon force on Saturday, catching 12 throws for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Plain and simple, Northwestern's secondary had no answer for Jenkins, and it might well be the case that some other defenses in the Big Ten won't be able to stop Jenkins either. Miscues almost cost the Illini the game on multiple occasions, though, and if it weren't for that heroic drive starting with 1:19 left in the game (a drive that was started by a 28-yard pass to Jenkins) Northwestern would have taken this game home.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON: This game wasn't settled until Illinois fell on a loose ball at the end of the game as Northwestern tried -- unsuccessfully -- to lateral its way into the end zone. Northwestern came close, as Kain Colter took one of the laterals into Illinois territory on a sprint, but Illinois' defenders prevented Northwestern from getting much further and that was that.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON: Illinois is now 5-0, having won each of its last three games by a three-point margin. This was a major test for the Illini, and they barely -- just barely -- pulled through for the victory. It's clear that A.J. Jenkins is a force to be reckoned with at wideout, and Illinois has now won games both primarily on the ground and through the air. That versatility bodes well for the future. For now, though, Illinois is 5-0 for the first time since its magical 1951 season, and the Illini can shore up bowl eligibility next week when they travel to Indiana.
WHAT NORTHWESTERN LOST: For the Wildcats, it was great to see Dan Persa back at quarterback and working his magic. Persa threw for four touchdowns on just 14 attempts, and more than that he just plain looked good. Unfortunately, Persa had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after he was tripped up on a scramble and came up hobbling. Kain Colter entered the game for Persa and drove the Wildcats to one touchdown, but he's clearly inferior to Persa. Good news for NU, though: Persa will likely be fine, and he was removed for what Pat Fitzgerald called "precautionary reasons." Still, though, this was a 50-50 game for Northwestern, and the loss means that Northwestern's darkhorse division title aspirations are likely at an end.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Nobody was ejected from today's game. That's too bad, because Illinois DB Jonathan Brown certainly deserved to be after he kneed Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward square in the, ahem, "man parts" after a play was over. As it was, Brown earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the act, and Northwestern would score a go-ahead touchdown on the very next snap. There's illegal play, there's dirty play, and then there's hits (or knees) below the belt. 15 yards doesn't seem sufficient for that.
Posted on: September 17, 2011 10:44 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
WHY ILLINOIS WON: The Illinois defense stood tall against its toughest opponent to date, registering six sacks on Brock Osweiler and 12 tackles for a loss on the whole. A.J. Jenkins came up big with the game-winning touchdown, and he accounted for 103 of Illinois' 135 receiving yards. Every time Illinois needed a play, it got it from either Jenkins or its defense, and the Illini are now 3-0 as a result.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON: When Osweiler's 4th and 10 pass sailed harmlessly over Aaron Pflugrand's outstretched arms. ASU had gotten the ball back for one last drive with 2:26 left at its own 27, but the Sun Devils struggled to move forward after that and never seriously threatened Illinois' defense.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON: With this win, Illinois will probably be garnering some serious Top 25 consideration, and the non-conference win over a ranked opponent ought to endear the Illini when it comes time for jockeying for bowl position. Moreover, considering the struggles that many Big Ten teams showed with their quarterback situations, Illinois also established itself as having one of the more stable offensive personnel situations. That's meaningful going into a conference where wins are fiercely contested nearly every week.
WHAT ARIZONA STATE LOST: ASU's season isn't over by any stretch, but everything the Sun Devils had going for them after last week's victory over Missouri -- momentum, an undefeated record, and a Top 25 ranking -- is now off the table for the next couple weeks. ASU will likely rebound and make some noise in the Pac-12, but it's going to have to do so with an unenviable negative mark on its record already.
THAT WAS CRAZY: With 55 seconds left and Illinois facing a 3rd and 12, Nathan Scheelhaase faked a handoff up the middle and took off on a naked bootleg. He didn't get very far, gaining no yardage, but the play took 11 seconds off the clock before he was finally brought down by Sun Devil defenders. With that, only four seconds remained on the clock before Illinois' fourth down snap, and instead of punting away the ball, Illinois was able to keep Scheelhaase in to run those four seconds off the clock before kneeling and finishing off the Sun Devils. So yeah, that bootleg was crazy... like a fox.