Tate: It can't get much worse

Tate: It can't get much worse

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – The noise emanating from Illini Nation will make this another difficult week for Ron Zook, Mike Schultz and Juice Williams.

Not much can be said in their defense. As with the 37-9 opening loss to Missouri, the Illini ventured onto the big stage and laid an egg Saturday. Ohio State won 30-0 without completing a pass in the first half and without allowing Illinois so much as a field goal try. This was a total shutdown reminiscent of 30-0 loss to Clemson in the 1990 Hall of Fame Bowl.

It can't be laid entirely in the lap of Schultz, the new offensive coordinator. This trend began at midseason 2008. Disregarding the recent Illinois State game, an offensive juggernaut that set offensive records in three stadiums last season has scored 17, 20, 10, 9 and zero points in a stretch of mounting ineptitude.

Williams, throwing erratically and finding little running room on the ground, is nearing the school record in total offense an inch at a time. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn had four receptions and completed his seventh consecutive game without a touchdown.

Yes, Juice got squeezed. But before you could say Eddie McGee, he entered with 5:22 showing and threw an interception on his first play.

What were they thinking?

When the game settled down in the early rain-soaked stages, Ohio State attacked Illinois at its strength, the defensive line, and took control.

So give the Buckeyes credit. They dominated in the trenches and deserved to win.

That said, the Illini seemed disengaged. They contributed to their own downfall. Maybe "dumb" is too strong a word. Let's just say the Illini didn't use their heads ... repeatedly ... when the game was still in the formative stage. Count the ways:

– When a flubbed Ohio State punt put Illinois in early position at midfield, the Illini punched out two first downs and reached the 24 where a penalty was assessed for 12 men in the huddle. What were they thinking?. After being set back, Williams threw directly to linebacker Brian Rolle who returned 39 yards.

– After Aaron Pettrey boomed a 50-yard field goal, Illini A.J. Jenkins caught the kickoff in the end zone, started to run, stopped and then made a fateful step over the line. He was swarmed at the 10. What was he thinking?

– Unable to capitalize as Williams' passes went awry (he was 6 of 15 for 30 yards at the half), the Illini nevertheless had the Buckeyes back on their 20 early in the second quarter. Pryor was trapped near the sideline when Clay Nurse unnecessarily grabbed his facemask. Fifteen yards! Then Pryor ran to the other sideline and Illini Supo Sanni hit him much too late. Another 15 yards! What were they thinking? Ohio State, without so much as a completed pass in the half, marched in for a 13-0 lead.

– The next time Ohio State punted, Jarred Fayson stood under the high boot around the 20, and stepped away from an obvious fair catch, allowing the ball to bounce to the 6-yard line. Again, what was he thinking?

– The Buckeyes made an uncharacteristic turnover just before halftime, a fumbled punt giving the Illini the ball at the Ohio State 45. Three penalties and a Fayson drop found Illinois punting from the 50. Three penalties! What were they thinking?

Hits keep coming

When the second half opened with another major UI penalty, we were presented with more of the same. Too many mistakes. A sputtering offense. A defense just trying to hang on.

Thus, a mystery team that opened the season in St. Louis without inspiration hit another low in front of 105,219 in the Horseshoe. And the mystery is clarifying in a way that doesn't look good for the future.

It isn't simply that the Illini lost to Ohio State. That was expected. It was the way they lost. Now, in two big-stage outings, they managed one touchdown, and that in the fourth quarter of a rout. They reached the Buckeye 24 on Saturday's first series, were repulsed and never got that close again.

The offense was so overmatched, so error-prone, so lacking in a vertical aerial game that it left the entire team looking stagnant. Even so, Illinois showed signs of moving the ball at times and we are left to wonder, with nine games remaining, whether they simply had a bad day mentally or whether they can't play without making a rash of ... OK, dumb ... mistakes.

It was a dreary, cloud-filled day that left us with dreary thoughts for the five-hour drive home.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports


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TotalIlliniFan wrote on September 26, 2009 at 7:09 pm

We absolutely cannot let this be counted as "having a bad day mentally". Zook, Disch and Mallory must go before November. Thanks for naming player names who are making the bone headed mistakes. It was hard to listen to the ESPN announcers doing the same.

myattitude wrote on September 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm

This season is headed where I thought after the first game. Juice isn't the quarterback he has been made out to be and Zook has bet his career on him. I will give McGee some slack as he is tossed in to the wolves.

I am beginning to believe Zook is good at recruiting but many of the good guys he gets are really people with problems that other teams do not want with a couple of exceptions. Still too many players dropping by te wayside.

Maybe instead of a two quarterback team we need a two coach team. Ron Zook to recruit but Ron Turner to run the team. This team has shown a lack of discipline now for 2-3 years. Too many stupid penalties although a bit better on that today. I see a season where we may have no more than 2-3 wins in a very weak Big Ten Conference.

OrlandoIllini wrote on September 26, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Let's review...

The Illini have not recruited enough speed and quickness;

Too many of the players in skill positions are way overrated (Fayson, wouldn't you really rather be a Gator now?);

Juice reminds me of backyard football when I was a kid: in the huddle the QB (the kid who owned the ball) always said, "everybody go deep and I'll run it any way I can"). He's not a QB.;

There's no evident offensive game plan, just a series of mostly predictable spasms.;

Look at the nine (9!) commits for 2010 and explain... A) why they should stick with the Illini, B) why others should join them, and C) how are they will outplay the blue chip recruits going to other schools;

Worst of all, self discipline is totally absent: players havving run-ins with the law, academic washouts, apparent inability to learn from and correct the mistakes they make on the field. In the Peach Bowl at the end of the 1985 season, we lost to a vastly inferior athletic team --Army-- because the Illini were not self-disciplined and Army was: they followed orders and did their jobs.

If we have another losing season, it's time to bite the financial bullet and change out the whole coaching staff.

--Orlando Illini

illini50 wrote on September 27, 2009 at 12:09 am

Fire Ron Zook immediately............Hire Terry Bowden

Illinigrad wrote on September 27, 2009 at 2:09 am

Not just a bad day Loren, a VERY bad day.

kfj wrote on September 27, 2009 at 7:09 am

I am not willing to say that the football team and their season is over. Penn State lost to Iowa. Should their coach resign immediately as those who want the Illinois coach to do since they lost to Ohio State? I would think that its time to let the team know that they must get stronger in their will to play football. And, think about a change in the quarterback position if he has another bad game. Start with this first, then proceed to give other players a change to play in the future. Go Illini!

bringbacktheChief wrote on September 27, 2009 at 8:09 am

Loren and friends: I thought that under the weather and circumstances, our defense did reasonably well. We were within 2 scores until the 3rd quarter and we did make some plays on the OSU QB.

However, its now glaringly apparent that our Senior QB (Juice) is still playing as a Sophomore. He can only throw to the primary receiver, his throwing mechanics are unsound, and he does not read defenses. He still plays high school ball.

The biggest issue is that he (in spite of what the announcers say) is not the leader of this team as a Senior QB should be. He's disengaged on the field, makes poor throws, does not engage his team on the sidelines. Where's the passion? When have we seen him chastized a teammate missing assignments? Juice has had his 3+ years to learn the game, mature and lead. He has done none of these. It's time for a permanant QB change.

dbacks2 wrote on September 27, 2009 at 9:09 am

Last week I said I would give Zook until after the

Penn State game to reach a conclusion on what I think his future should be with the Illini. No need to wait. His ability at achieving the complete package that is needed as a head coach are now clear. He can recruit, but then lets his talent rot in mismanagement. He cannot achieve at this level.

With a QB that has proven he can throw for 400 yards a game and has one of the best receiving corps in the country, to not go vertical and to not throw the ball 50 times a game is assanine and the points on the board prove this week after week. I sent Zook and Schultz an email after the

Missouri game and told them they could both learn

from what Mike White did. Mike White realized that if he had an offensive line that could not open up holes and thus he went vertical. Locksley understood this too but had a year with Mendenhall that made everything easier.

I did not expect the Illini to win this game or many games for that matter, but I did expect them to play to their full abilities which under Zook they repeatedly do not. There is no excuse for an anemic offense, no excuse for repeated stupid mistakes, and no excuse for repeatedly stupid coaching that cannot get the players close to achieving their potential. I feel sorry for the players. The handwriting is on the wall. Zook

and the entire staff must go. Believe it or not,

I ran into John Macovic last year and I think he

could restore the program. If not him, go after head coaches at Texas Tech, Houston, or one of the coaches out of the WAC, all of whom have proven they can play with the big boys and often win, and more importantly score and get the most out of their athletes.

repeteil wrote on September 27, 2009 at 6:09 pm

As they say in Florida...you got the coach we got rid of...Does that tell you anything at all? When will the higher ups learn about hiring a good coach. The Illini deserve better!