The Illinois football team defeated Arizona State 17-14 on Saturday to go 3-0 and crack the Top 25 for the first time in awhile. It was an ugly game, marred by penalties and mistakes on both sides, with the defenses dominating for long stretches. Most people picked this game as a shootout, with someone needing to score 40 to win. While that didn’t happen, the Illini win has kicked in this little-known concept of momentum, and that result along with the how the schedule could play out make the result pretty enough.
This game broke some streaks for the Orange and Blue, including a long stretch of futility against Top 25 foes (ASU was #22 last week) and the non-conference Top 25. It’s the first time starting the season three games undefeated in years. Perhaps most importantly, the Illini came from behind in the 4th quarter to actually win a game at the end. This simply has not happened the last three years, with the team dropping virtually every close contest in the final frame.
Now it’s time for two more home games in which the Illini will be favored: MAC opponent Western Michigan this week and Northwestern the week after. Win those two and how you have yourself some serious momentum – just what the program needs. Five points in the Pentagram:
- Defense continues to step up. Arizona State has and will score a lot of points this season. They have a good quarterback and good athletes and a coach with a system. The Illini, meanwhile, have continue to find ways to bring pressure and disrupt. There were stunts and blitzes from everywhere, and the D simply stuffed the Sun Devil running game. The secondary contributed mightily, covering late into plays and forcing a couple of sacks. Coach Vic Koenning and the Zooker deserve a lot of credit for this unit’s improvement.
- Offense, on the other hand… Didn’t look so good. Teams continue to crowd the line on Illinois and try to force a vertical game. This didn’t stop Leshoure for long last year, but Jason Ford hasn’t really figured it out yet. Scheelhaase’s poor downfield throws were punished, and he appeared to have tunnel-vision at times when ASU sent their blitzes. But 17 points was enough – this week.
- Special Teams need to improve. The muffed punt by Ryan Lankford could’ve really cost us but didn’t. He followed that up by not even fielding the next one. I’m ready to see someone else back there. On the kickoff after the field goal, the ASU returner split through the coverage and required a saving tackle by kicker Derek Dimke to prevent the TD. On the other hand, freshman punter Justin Duvernois hit some good ones after a shaky start.
- JB in the house. Everyone was talking about Jonathan Brown’s game at linebacker after the game – with good reason. JB was all over the place, pressuring, harrying, and generally making the Sun Devils take notice. If he can play like that, and if the other young backers like Houston Bates continue to follow senior Ian Thomas’s lead, the D will continue to play well.
- Nice crowd, atmosphere. The uneven performance of the football team in recent years has given the Orange and Blue nation an wait-and-see approach, but the stadium was 95% full on Saturday. The later start helped, as did the quality of the opponent. The place was loud at times, even if a bit subdued for long stretches of the 2nd and 3rd. Winning is just what the football team needs to bring people back. So go get Western Michigan next week and get ready for Homecoming against Northwestern.