Marcus Jackson's take on Saturday's 56-32 loss to Wisconsin:
— Did you stay awake long enough to see the Illini (kind of) make a game of it in the first half? Can’t blame folks who turned the channel in the first quarter when the Badgers went up 21-0. It looked like 2012 all over again. The defense couldn’t get a stop and the offense was anemic. Illinois got its act together, but the slow starts to each half are not a winning recipe. It happened at Nebraska and it happened here Saturday. Keep that up and that Big Ten losing streak isn’t ending any time soon.
— It was cold and there were plenty of elite college football games on in primetime Saturday night — not to mention the ALCS — but Memorial Stadium housed its best crowd of the season (47,362). Not only did the folks show up, they were helpful, too. Country group The Henningsens, from nearby Atwood, sang the national anthem, but the sound was going in and out. So the Illinois faithful joined in and helped the trio sing the song. Great work, Illinois fans. Hope you treated yourselves to a beverage for your efforts.
— There’s not an official stat for missed tackles, but that might be one in which Illinois would be near the top of the heap nationally. Melvin Gordon and James White ran roughshod through the Illini defense, breaking multiple tackles along the way multiple times. There’s been some heat on defensive coordinator Tim Banks this season and it’s somewhat justified. But when scholarship players are in position to make stops, they’ve got to get the job done. Wisconsin has had a 1,000-yard rusher in nine straight seasons — Gordon went over 1,000 Saturday. You know the Badgers are going to run the football.
— Love Tim Beckman’s enthusiasm and his idea to make Saturday’s game an “Orange Out.” That’s very Lou Henson of you, Coach, and we know how folks feel about Lou in these parts. The problem, though, is this doesn’t work so well outdoors in central Illinois in mid-October at night. Too cold for folks. Save for a large number of hunters, most don’t own orange coats. Try it again next year, but maybe one of the early games when it’s 95 degrees. Everyone around here has an orange T-shirt.
— When a game gets as boring as Saturday’s did, it’s easy to forget what’s going on, where you are or even what time it is. Referee Mike Cannon forgot where we were in the game when he announced at the end of the third quarter that we were at the end of the second quarter. Not a grave mistake, but it really freaked a lot of people out. We thought we had to sit through an extra quarter of play.
— It was really upsetting seeing Wisconsin star linebacker Chris Borland leave early with an injury. Mainly because I love watching great players play and because I have a heart and don’t like seeing guys get hurt. But it was especially disappointing because Borland was going to be the Badgers’ long field goal guy. Wisconsin kicker Kyle French hasn’t been good, so Borland was going to get the nod in case the Badgers needed a long boot. Turns out it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, but with as bad as the game turned out to be, some entertainment from a 250-pound kicker would have been nice.
— It’s too bad Minnesota isn’t on the schedule — from an Illinois perspective. Sure, the Illini haven’t fared well against the Gophers in recent years, but then again, who have they fared well against in the Big Ten? The Gophers, though they squeaked by a banged-up Northwestern on Saturday, are a mess. Jerry Kill has some serious health issues and though he wasn’t supposed to coach Saturday at Northwestern, he emerged in the coaches’ box. And when was the last time Minnesota had a legitimate quarterback those outside the Twin Cities knew by name?
— I know you’re all upset about the loss Saturday, but Michigan State’s coming to town next week and the Spartans had a heck of a time moving the ball against lowly Purdue on Saturday. Sparty didn’t cross Purdue’s 32 until the fourth quarter. They’re not going to light up the scoreboard like the Badgers. They’ve got a stout defense, but so did Wisconsin and the Illini showed flashes of life against that unit Saturday. Illinois ended a long Big Ten losing streak against the Spartans in Ron Zook’s second year. Beckman can do the same next week.
— Many folks, myself included, figure the Indiana game Nov. 9 is a very winnable game for the Illini. It is, but you better come ready to score against the Hoosiers. They put up 47 on Michigan in the Big House on Saturday. But they still managed to lose the game by two touchdowns. Kevin Wilson’s squad couldn’t stop Salt Fork right now, but they can move the rock. Bill Cubit & Co. best be ready for a shootout.
When Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas, there were more than Badgers followers who were upset that Barry Alvarez’s mentee bolted for the big, bad SEC.
Bielema’s wife, Jen, didn’t help matters when she tweeted “#Karma” after Wisconsin was jobbed out of a win at Arizona State by the officials. Still, there are some, like Wisconsin student radio color analyst Mike Veldhuis, who wish Bielema well with the Razorbacks.
“It depends who you ask. There are a lot of people who just want him to lose,” the junior said. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to deal with it; I fall into that category. You wish him the best, you move on. Gary Andersen is doing great things.”
Andersen’s got the Badgers in the Top 25 and they should have entered Saturday’s tilt with a 5-1 record if not for the hack job in the desert. He’s got the fan base feeling optimistic again.
“It’s been impressive what he’s done,” Veldhuis said. “There were a couple of miscues against Arizona State. Ohio State, they played well, just didn’t have enough things go their way in terms of turnovers and penalties. This is a program that could be in a much better position than they currently are and I look forward to the future. The defense played exceptionally well against Northwestern, so that’s encouraging from a Wisconsin standpoint.”
Speaking of defense, you might get bored watching Wisconsin basketball, but Veldhuis loves watching Bo Ryan’s ugly, winning formula.
“I’m not big into basketball, but I do like watching defense, so watching Wisconsin basketball is usually good enough from me,” he said.
In the Stadium
— A season ticket-holder since 1956, Shorty Eichelberger was honored on the field for her contributions to the athletic department during a first-quarter timeout. The UI softball field, which was built thanks to a sizable donation from Eichelberger and her late husband, Paul, is named Eichelberger Field.
— Illinois men’s basketball coach John Groce roamed the sidelines and stopped during the first half for an interview on BTN with former Illini All-America linebacker J Leman.
— At least 40 recruits were in the house for the homecoming showcase under the lights. Among the big names in attendance were Madre London, a running back from St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida; Chris Slaton, a defensive end from Crete-Monee; and Centennial quarterback Jimmy Fitzgerald. Nick Allegretti, a 2014 center commit from Lincoln-Way East, made the trip. Allegretti was selected to participate in the U.S. Army All-America game in San Antonio in January.