Our beloved Fighting Illini travel east to Penn State with a 2-1 record and less-than-satisfying results from these first three games. Penn State, meanwhile, has looked impressive in their first four games, racking up yards and generally overwhelming their opponents. As everyone who follows the Orange & Blue knows, this is a pivotal weekend for the Illini. Win and we’re in the coversation for the Big10 race. Lose (especially if we lose badly) and we’re perched on the edge of a deep ravine…
Penn State is the team that applied the worst butt-kicking I’ve ever seen the Illini take a few years ago at Memorial Stadium — a low point for the program in the transition from Turner to Zooker. The Nittany Lions were also the team we beat early in the season last year to gain confidence and set up the Rose Bowl run. Penn State rarely loses at home (23 wins in their last 25 games) and Illinois has never won in Happy Valley..
…and so what? None of that really matters come Saturday. This is an ABC primtime kickoff at one of the nation’s premier venues. This is two good teams lining up. And the days when Illinois lacked the players and athletes to line-up against a team like Penn State are behind us.
All the Illini really need for this game is courage.
That’s right, Coach Locksley, I’m talking to you. It starts with the play-calling. We know the players will be hyped up and ready to go, no problem getting the boys up for this game. We know the Zooker is always up for it. So how about it, Locks? How about a little courage with the offensive scheme? Let’s line-up five wideouts and throw something other than screens and dump-passes in the first quarter. Let’s go to deep on our first offensive series. Let’s spread it around to our excellent corps of recevivers. No more of this ultra-conservative first-half game plan. No more coddling Juice; if Juice throws an interception, throw the ball downfield on the very next offensive play, don’t retreat into the shell of draw plays. Not only does this show Juice you have confidence in him, it shows the whole team we are unafraid. And if Juice can’t bounce back or gets to rattled, put in McGee.
Use the pass to set up the run. Our best play-makers are at the QB and receiver positions. I hate to make this reference, but look at how Missouri does it. They bury teams beneath a wave of offense. This should also be our approach.
Sure, like every football game, it will probably come down to the tired old cliches of turnovers, execution, and line play. But a little risk, a little innovation — that’s right, some courage on offense — will be the defining theme of this game and likely the rest of the season.
Marbles, Illini. Cajones. Show us what you got.