The streaks of eye black descended straight down Mason Monheim’s face. Blended almost perfectly into the grizzled beard the Illinois sophomore linebacker has sported all season. That was the look Monheim had Saturday after the defense did ... well, what exactly? Defensive coordinator Tim Banks said the Illini didn’t show any exotic schemes against a porous Miami (Ohio) offense. Gave up only 250 yards, but that was 100 yards more than the RedHawks averaged in their first three games.
“Every now and then we give up that big play that we need to continue to get better at doing,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said.
Nit-picky, perhaps, but Nebraska presents an entirely different set of challenges for Illinois’ defense. Washington did whatever it wanted to in the second half, and the Cornhuskers — despite their defensive weaknesses — are another potent offense.
The tackling improved against the RedHawks. It must continue against Nebraska.
“Coach said it best before the game (Saturday),” Monheim said. “It’s a faceless opponent. It doesn’t matter if it’s Alabama coming in here or it is Miami (Ohio). We’re never going to have a perfect game, but our game plan is going to be the same. We want to dominate them, and we want to win.”
There are 20 of them. One isn’t USC. Lane Kiffin will need to update his resume after the Trojans let him go following the 62-41 loss late Saturday at Arizona State. Moving on to the undefeated, though. Three reside in the Big Ten.
Going into the first week of October, Alabama and Oregon would meet to determine the final BCS national champion. Imagine those two contrasting styles duking it out at the Rose Bowl. Bring back Keith Jackson and wow. What an atmosphere. Clemson and Ohio State fans might have something to say, but that’s why a playoff arrives next year.
And many, many football games will take place between now and Jan. 6. The other teams jostling for BCS positioning and aiming for perfection are Baylor, Florida State, Fresno State, Houston, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Michigan, Missouri, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Stanford, Texas Tech, UCLA and Washington. Some names you expected to see in there. Some you didn’t. The number will whittle down by at least three at this point next week because Maryland plays at Florida State, Ohio State will visit Pat Fitzgerald and his Wildcats in Evanston and Keith Price’s Washington squad will attempt to win at Stanford.
He has started more games than Eric Crouch. Tommie Frazier. Turner Gill. Thrown for more yards than the three mentioned above. Only needs 476 rushing yards to supplant Crouch atop that list among the school’s all-time leading rushing quarterbacks.
Taylor Martinez might have upset the Nebraska fan base multiple times because of his play on the field and his actions off the field, but he is among the most prolific quarterbacks to put on a Nebraska uniform. One of the biggest knocks, though, against Martinez is he hasn’t won in January. The 0-3 bowl record Martinez has accumulated is a sore talking point from Omaha to North Platte.
One item Martinez has never done is lost coming off a bye week. He is 3-0 in such games during his career. Illinois ended its 10-game losing streak coming off bye weeks Saturday against Miami (Ohio). Nebraska is fresh off a bye week of its own and hasn’t lost in one of those games since 2008, Bo Pelini’s first season in Lincoln.