Asmussen: In the grand scheme of things ...
College football writer and AP voter Bob Asmussen’s musings after the sixth week of the season:
— It was friends and families only greeting the Illini at the airport Saturday night. No throng of fans to welcome their conquering heroes. The end of the now 15-game Big Ten losing streak will have to wait at least two more weeks. Or longer.
Nebraska was far from vulnerable Saturday, running up and down the field against the Illini defense.
“Bottom line is we’ve got to play better on defense, and we’ve got capitalize on offense when we’ve got an opportunity,” Illinois coach Tim Beckman said on his postgame radio show. “Whenever we get the ball in the red zone, we have got to come away with points.”
Beckman said the Illini didn’t throw the ball well with the wind at their back and performed better into the wind “for some reason.”
The loss spoiled a big day by running back Josh Ferguson.
“I really do think that Josh had a good football game for us (Saturday),” Beckman said.
After taking next Saturday off, Illinois welcomes Wisconsin for a night game Oct. 19 at a friendlier Memorial Stadium.
Beckman’s second Illini team figures to be a heavy underdog against the Badgers after Saturday’s loss at Nebraska.
“It’s definitely a learning opportunity,” Beckman said of the Nebraska loss.
Feeling good about itself after a 3-1 nonconference start, Illinois took a step backward in Lincoln. It happens to a lot of teams. The red wave can be overwhelming.
On a chilly, windy day, Illinois needed to get off to a fast start. Instead, it fell behind by two touchdowns early and could never get close. An early fumble cost the Illini. So did an interception by Nathan Scheelhaase.
Nebraska tried to help, turning the ball over twice on its own.
Nebraska laid out the blueprint for future Illinois opponents. Run early and often. Force Illinois to stack the box and then throw over it.
Except for superstar-in-training Jonathan Brown, the young Illinois defense appears easy to pick apart.
Beckman knows his guys have to improve in the next month. By leaps and bounds. Wisconsin isn’t the only challenge left. Michigan State appears healed based on Saturday’s win against Iowa. Indiana is better than we thought based on Saturday’s upset of Penn State. Ohio State and Northwestern are the class of the conference.
Of the remaining games, only the trip to Purdue looks like an Illinois win. And that might change in the coming weeks if the Boilermakers can get it turned around.
Going into Saturday’s game, the thought was the Illinois offense would be able to move the ball up and down the field against Nebraska’s weak defense. Instead, Illinois made the Huskers look closer to their vintage Blackshirts days. Weeks from now, this could be viewed as the turning point for Nebraska’s season.
— Illinois allowed Nebraska to get the early edge, which kept the chilled fans in the game and made a comeback more difficult.
— The Illini wasted a big game by Ferguson, who should earn more touches each week. The speedy sophomore has a knack for avoiding contact and getting the most yards from the smallest holes. Somewhere, Rocky Harvey is smiling.
— Too bad Illinois couldn’t force Nebraska to kick on every play. Nebraska missed two extra points and is in serious need of shank practice. Maybe call in Phil Mickelson or Steve Stricker.
On the Big Ten
— ESPN took full advantage of Saturday’s visit to Evanston. It had Brent Musburger, a Northwestern alum, handling the picks. And it brought in Michael Wilbon and Mike Greenberg as special guest prognosticators. Loved the signs during “College GameDay,” especially “Nerdwestern.” Those crazy college kids. ESPN also visited landmark Mustard’s Last Stand, which is Evanston’s hot dog haven.
— Huge win for Indiana, which ended years of frustration against Penn State by stuffing Bill O’Brien’s Nittany Lions. It is the kind of signature win Kevin Wilson’s program desperately needed. The key now is to keep the run going. Unfortunately, the next two games are against Michigan State and Michigan, so the euphoria could be temporary. Or until basketball season starts.
Wilson has done a solid job with the Indiana offense. Given the talent deficit in Bloomington, it isn’t going to be fixed by the defense.
On the rest
— Future Big Ten school Maryland was smashed back to the ground with a humbling 63-0 loss to Florida State. So much for the genius of Randy Edsall. Jimbo Fisher, however, looks better than ever. The Seminoles will get a bump up in the N-G Top 25.
— Louisville isn’t likely going up. For a while. The Cardinals were pedestrian in a win against Temple. It should have put up 70 again, not 30. Hard to imagine Louisville working its way into the BCS title game.
— We need to keep an eye on Charlie Weis at Kansas. A blowout loss to Texas Tech makes it harder to accept the lack of success in recent seasons. Kansas is a destination school for a basketball coach but is a graveyard in football. Too bad. The facilities are decent, and the fans are ready to be supportive. But because of the basketball success, it’s going to take somebody special to get them fully involved. Might be another possibility for Dino Babers. If, of course, he decides to leave Eastern Illinois. (Matt Daniels provides an answer in next Sunday’s feature on the dynamic Panthers coach).
— Thursday was escape night for the national powers. First, Texas needed a favorable ruling on an apparent fumble to survive at Iowa State. The Big 12 officials said they did nothing wrong. Tell that to Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, who went berserk after the one-point loss. If he wants to blame somebody, Rhoads should look in the mirror. He is the one who decided to kick a late field goal rather than going for a touchdown near the end zone. A touchdown would have rendered the latest Texas touchdown meaningless. Mack Brown thanks his rival coach for the mistake.
— UCLA got past Utah by a touchdown in a late-night game. The Bruins were so good at Nebraska, but the Bruins might not be up for the Pac-12’s best (Stanford and Oregon). And beating Washington is no lock, either. No offense to Utah, but Jim Mora’s team should have dominated. And it didn’t. After a breather next week against Cal, the Bruins have Stanford and Oregon in consecutive games. Uh-oh.