After a discouraging trip to the desert suburbs of Phoenix (Tempe, AZ), the Illini are back on more famliar territory.....as in the friendly confines ...and oasis..... of Memorial Stadium .
Tim Beckman has admitted this week that the Illini did not play well at all last Saturday night in any facet of the game...and the 45-14 final score indicated that. For the first time in a couple of years (since the Michigan 67-65 triple overtime classic)....the Illini defense was shredded like there was no one out there...well....playing defense.
In a shocking first quarter the Arizona State offense just played pitch and catch and moved up and down the field at will . The Illini defense seemed to recover somewhat in the second half...but the game was already decided at that point.
Meanwhile...the offense was having trouble all night as well...without starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase at the helm Backups Reilly O'Toole and Miles Osei showed flashed of ability...but threw 3 interceptions combined and had a couple of costly delay of game penalies as well. And while Josh Ferguson did have a career day with over 100 yards rushing....he hesitated a couple of times returning kicks down around the goal line that put Illinois in a bind when it came to field position.
Granted....Arizona State was better than I thought they would be. And they did just about everything perfectly out in the desert. Dont be surprised if they challenge USC in the Pac-12 South before the season is over. That offense is really tough to stop.
The good news is that after their 6 am arrival at Flightstar in Savoy early Sunday morning...the Illini coaches and players went right back to work to correct the mistakes. The other good news is that Illinois is facing a team that they should be able to handle ....with or without Scheelhaase.
Charleston Southern plays in a lower division (FCS-former Div-1-AA)...and the Buccaneers havent won a football game at any level since the end of the 2010 football season (-14 in a row). They have had success before in Charleston...as the program compiled the best record in the Big South Conference between 2005 and 2009...including (ironically)...a 14-game winning streak. But they are clearly in a rebuilding mode now. The Bucs gave up over 400 yards rushing to The Citadel in their opening game of this season. Remember last year...the Illini rolled their FCS opponent (South Dakota State)... 56-3. Dont know if the score will look like that when the day is over Saturday....but the Illini should be able to take care of business.
The big question will be....How will they look doing it? Will the defense play like it has something to prove? Will Nathan Scheelhaase take a few snaps? Can O'Toole and Osei get some good playing time in and work on improving their overall game ? Will the Illini feel better about themselves after the game? Which injured players (Darius Millines?) will return? Will there be a young receiver make a name for himself (Justin Hardee or Kenny Knight)? Some of those questions and maybe a couple more hopefully will be answered by the time everyone sits down for supper Saturday night.
The Illini want to show improvement....because the September 22nd opponent looks to be one of those infamous "trap" games. La Tech may not be well-known....but just ask Arkansas if their players now know where Louisana -Monroe is from after this past weekend.
See you Saturday at Memorial Stadium at 11 am!