Pentagram: Loss #1

Illiniois’ 17-7 loss to Ohio State was the first of the year, but with schedule shifting towards the perilous and the team continuing to make the same kinds of mistakes, it surely won’t be the last.  This game was there for the taking.  The Buckeyes weren’t very good, completing a single pass on the day (albeit for a touchdown), but the Illini were worse.  Coach Luke Fickell seemed to be following the script of earlier foes: play it close and vanilla and wait for Illinois to screw up.  Which is just what happened.

Across the street, Bruce Weber’s basketball team opened practice before the game with an open scrimmage.  Expectations are low to middling, with lots of new players, a transfer point guard who has health issues (Sam Maniscalco), and a highly athletic but inexperience center in Myers Leonard.  Swingman Brandon Paul figures to be the go-to guy on offense, but the team will stress defense first and attempt to ratchet up the pressure.  Hey – they should be an interesting group to watch.  The schedule is soft, and if they can win some close games they could be OK; if not, Bruce already has his excuses ready to go.

Back to the football team.  Five points in your pentagram loss…

  • Classic Zook game.  This is what I told my brother and Columbus-based cousins after the game.  Since Ron Zook’s arrival, the Illini have about two games a year where they come out flat listless.  There are penalties and turnovers, and poor clock management in the clutch.  Then they lose and we hear later “it wasn’t a great week in practice”.  This was clearly one of those games.  You hate to blame it all on the coach, but when you spot a trend over time…
  • Why so conservative, Paul?  Offensive Coordinator Paul Petrino has schemed some good games.  This wasn’t one of them.  The Buckeyes focused on run-stopping and did a good job handling the option.  Yet we predictably continued to hand-off on 1st down every single play.  Note to staff:  Leshoure is no longer on the team.  Realizing the coach can’t actually catch passes (and there were several criminal drops), the Illini need to air it out sooner when defenses start to cheat.  This didn’t happen until too late in the game.
  • OSU still has the horses.  The Buckeyes have had a rough time lately, but they are still stocked with 4 and 5 star recruits at every position.  Their athletes shut down the option by taking away the corner, and they also effectively double-teamed A.J. Jenkins and kept him mostly under control.  Meanwhile, their line opened enough holes and their runners executed well enough to win.  This is maybe the second game in which Illinois didn’t enjoy a considerable athletic advantage, but with Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin on the radar, it won’t be the last.
  • Not down on Nate.  Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase wasn’t his best, but his receivers let him down on numerous, potential drive-extending occasions.  Darius Milines was missed this weekend.  One interception was a bad throw; the other was a long pass that got hung up in the wind a bit.   Any fans calling for freshman Reilly O’Toole need to step back.  Nate didn’t have time in the pocket but still got things rolling at the end.  The Coaches could help Nate by introducing some screens and some three-step drop plays to relieve blitz pressure.  That 4th down play at the end was just bad, though…
  • The script now changes.  Realistically, any shot at the Big 10 Championship game is now gone, so the team needs to focus on avoiding any extended losing streaks.  Back-to-back road games at Purdue and Penn State are both winnable, but not if the Orange and Blue play like they did against OSU.  Win the turnover battle and avoid any special teams disasters.  Put the ball in the air earlier and with more variation.  Purdue will spread it out, while Penn State will play it safe like OSU; either way you’re going to need 25+ points to win.  A good bowl game is still very much attainable.  So is a gruesome collapse.

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