Football beat writer Bob Asmussen was back in the pressbox for Saturday's Indiana-Illinois game. His take:
— Indiana is better. Not “Going to a Bowl This Season” better. But better. Competitive. Excited. Interested. Will it lead to success for KEVIN WILSON in future seasons? Based on Indiana’s football past, probably not. But at least there is a feeling of change.
— Illinois is worse. Not “Never Going to a Bowl Again” worse. But worse. The bowl hopes end officially next Saturday in Columbus when URBAN MEYER names the score against Illinois. Given the way he has let his team play this season, the number might hit the 60s.
— Unless major improvement is made in the final month of the season, Illinois will enter 2013 with a 14-game Big Ten losing streak. And the opener next season is at Nebraska. Followed by Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State. The streak could easily hit 18.
— With a week off to rest, Illinois running backs DONOVONN YOUNG and JOSH FERGUSON appeared to have a bonus spring or two in their steps. They had more burst at the line of the scrimmage and were able to pull away from defenders. In a long season, you can’t overestimate the value of rest for weary running backs. Having their most complete set of offensive linemen helped, too.
— Illini linebacker JONATHAN BROWN showed the folks who pick the Butkus Award that they know what they are doing. The semifinalist led his team with 11 tackles, one better than freshman MASON MONHEIM.
— In the battle of alternate uniforms, give the advantage to Illinois. Decked out in
blue uniforms and its new blue helmets, Illinois won the color battle with all-white-wearing Indiana. Rumor has it that the Hoosiers haven’t been able to settle on a consistent uniform choice. How about those barber pants the basketball team wears?
— Not to dwell on the crowd, but it was slow arriving Saturday morning. Blame the chilly weather for part of it. And a 2-5 opponent. And the kickoff time (nobody really wants to watch football at 11 a.m.). The official attendance of 47,981 was the most for any Illinois home game this season.
— You have 43 seconds left in the half and the ball at Indiana’s 36. So, why would you punt? JUSTIN DuVERNOIS’ boot sailed into the end zone, netting 16 yards. Indiana ran out the remaining seconds. It would have made a whole lot more sense for Illinois to run a play against the defensively challenged Hoosiers and try to tie the game at intermission. The Illinois crowd voiced its unhappiness with the call, booing the decision. The fans were right.
— Indiana coach Wilson apparently didn’t like the first-half interception thrown by quarterback CAMERON COFFMAN. The wounded duck, picked off by STEVE HULL, was the last pass thrown by Coffman, who was replaced by freshman NATE SUDFELD.
— Where’s the pressure from the Illinois defense? Of course, WHITNEY MERCILUS was a major factor in 2011, but he had help. Indiana had 13 sacks going into Saturday’s game and was able to get to NATHAN SCHEELHAASE seven times. Illinois had three, giving it 12 for the season. Or just five more than the Hoosiers had on Saturday.
— If you have to run farther than GREGOR BLANCO to catch a punt, you probably want to let it go. TOMMY DAVIS went a long way before dropping the ball near the Indiana sideline. The Hoosiers recovered, setting up their lead touchdown late in the first half. One of the most important aspects of special teams is making good decisions.
— Speaking of good decisions: don’t hit the quarterback after he goes out of bounds. Ever. JUSTIN STAPLES, a fifth-year senior who has to know better, kept an Indiana drive alive in the first half by hitting Indiana’s Sudfeld on the sidelines. The play was on a third down the Hoosiers failed to convert.
— Speaking of good decisions: don’t jump offside when an opponent is going for it on fourth and 1. GLENN FOSTER, a fifth-year senior who has to know better, kept an Indiana drive going by jumping into the backfield. Indiana scored later on the drive.
in the Stadium
— Former Illini quarterback JUICE WILLIAMS took a quick stroll through the press box at halftime. Williams is the school’s career total offense leader, a record that could someday be taken by Scheelhaase. Williams was wearing his No. 7 Illinois jersey.
— The Illinois men’s golf team was honored during a first-half break. THOMAS PIETERS, the 2012 NCAA champion, drew loud applause when he was introduced. Big Ten champion LUKE GUTHRIE wasn’t able to make it because he is playing in the Web.com Tour Championship this weekend in Dallas. Guthrie already has earned his PGA card for 2013.
— GENE HONDA was back as public address announcer Saturday after missing the Penn State game because of his duties with the Chicago White Sox. Honda wasn’t supposed to be here Saturday, but the NHL lockout freed him from his work with the Chicago Blackhawks.
— Mercilus, a Houston Texans rookie, and Quincy great JACK CORNELL, who is on the Ravens’ practice squad, took in the homecoming loss. Both of their NFL teams are off this weekend.