This one’s going to sting for awhile. Illinois’ 67-65 triple-overtime loss to Michigan was a stark reminder that they just aren’t quite a good team yet. Close – like this game – but not quite. Maybe the defensive unit had read too many complimentary reports about their turn-around and how much better they’ve been this year. Maybe Coach Koenning’s scheme was a tad too passive and too concerned with preventing Denard Robinson from running.
The fact is, Michigan’s not very good either, and you have to beat them on day like that – especially with Robinson knocked out of the game. The Illini made way too many mistakes, though, looking more like a reversion to previous Zook teams. The coaching staff has about two weeks to right the ship before facing another spread offense in Northwestern. Minnesota is just awful, so the Illini should become bowl-eligible this week. But like many Illini fans, we’re sick and tired of losing to the Wildcats, and the whole Wrigley Field scenario will raise the stakes. Until then, however, focus will shift to Coach Weber and the basketball team as they try to start strong and justify the pre-season hype.
Five points in the pentagram:
- Why so conservative? Talking about the defensive scheme here… Michigan State and others showed that if you come after Robinson, he starts to make mistakes and get injured. Instead we seemed to have a contain scheme implemented, and Robinson led his team to 31 first half points before getting knocked out of the game. Should have sent Martez and Ian Thomas early and often. Which may have made up for…
- Terrible coverage in the secondary. All year the Illini defensive backs have done fairly well staying with receivers (at least compared to last year), but for this game they just couldn’t seem to stay with Roundtree and Hemingway. They made up for it by tackling poorly. There was Terry Hawthorne, getting juked and faked repeatedly by the bigger-but-slower Hemingway, including the pivotal two-point conversion. Certainly the d-backs will get extra work from Koenning this week.
- The Third-and-One failure was huge, in the 4th quarter, with time running out. We tried the run-up-the-middle with LeShoure play at a time when Michigan was keying on those plays. How about a bubble-screen (remember those) or even a bootleg? If Illinois converts that and keeps going, you had to like Dimke’s chances of making a game-winner with time running out.
- The tipped pass TD in 2OT was typical of the bad luck we seem to have historically against Michigan. Whether it’s blown calls (how about that phantom roughing-the-passer in 3OT when Trulon Henry clearly pulled back and attempted to stop Forcier from falling down), consistently bad spots on key plays, or the ball bouncing off an Illini defender into a Michigan guy’s hands, these kinds of plays are all too familiar. Then you have both left-side offensive linemen falling down in unison on the 2-point conversion play – which just happened to be the side Michigan had called the blitz. On the bright side, this may have helped saved Rodriguez’s job in Ann Arbor.
- Scheelhaase has come far – especially when you consider how limited the playbook was the first couple of weeks. He already checks down his receivers better than his predecessor, and I’m very impressed with how he doesn’t seem to get rattled out there. He’s accurate and confident and seems to throw better each week. Expect him to have a big game against the Gophers, who will likely sell out to stop the run early. If Illinois does become a good team at some point soon, much credit to Nate and his development.