Illinois Sports EXTRAVAGANZA!!! Part 1 Football

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By Paul Schmidt and Paul Banks

Yes that’s right, the two Pauls are in Champaign for all your Illinois needs…we have Illinois football just underway and Illinois basketball later tonight, making for a day where you don’t even need to leave your computer!  Just come hang with us!

Let’s get started with the Illinois football action!juice2willimas

Illinois 7, Fresno State 0, 9:30 left 1Q
The Illini running game was strong early on there, chewing up a ton of yardage, gaining 54 yards on nine carries.  While the Bulldog offense may be very, very good, their defense doesn’t strike fear, at least early on.  Also, there’s around 20,000 here, a little bit bigger crowd than either myself or Banks expected. (PS)

Illinois 7, Fresno State 7, 1:30 left 1Q
After an Illinois punt, Fresno State put together a really nice drive to get down and punch in a one yard TD run. The Illini, plagued all year by poor tackling, were, perhaps not shockingly, plagued by poor tackling.  Has the basketball game started yet?

(PMB) The first quarter was promising…I guess. But all that non-catastrophic set of events is by the wayside, as Juice just threw the worst pick-six I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously, I know it’s the Christmas season, but that was gift-wrapped, in gift wrapping. The present was also “parsum brown” and it had “bells on bobtails” even though I have no idea what those last two phrases mean. So yeah it was bad

This stadium feels like 3/4 empty. in other words like Ryan Field for a non-conference game. My favorite are the group of kids who went shirtless and painted their chests with each and every letter to spell out “why are we here” they even had shirtless people with the spaces so people can read it better. And now they’re gone!

After questioning their presence for a qtr, now they are no longer present. What a great postmodern existential query. If “I think, therefore I am” than they must have stopped thinking.

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Illinois 14, Fresno St. 14 4:29 left 2Q
Good times, good times, the shirtless guys came back after the Illini tied the game and Jeff Cumberland made me look psychic.  I was in the process of saying that some team should take a late-round flier on Cumberland as a tight end or a slot receiver, and he caught a great little fade route from Juice Williams for an 18 yard TD where he blew right by the linebacker. “You’re telling me that something like that wouldn’t be useful?” I said.  Psychic indeed.

Meanwhile, Illinois just turned Fresno right back over with a wounded-duck pass and then a pick by Garrett Edwards, taking over deep in Bulldog territory.  The pass was so bad that Banks said, “Wow…easy to see why Fresno State has the nation’s leading rusher!” (PS)

Illinois 21, Fresno State 14 3:30 left 2Q
And Illinois punches it in! Jason Ford with an eight yard run.  There was some discussion whether any Jason Ford carries are a good thing, but for the Illini on that drive, it certainly was. As an addendum to the rushing of Fresno State, Ryan Colburn is 1-4 for 25 yards and an interception.  It is, however, windy on the field. I guess. (PS)

I still can’t believe your Cumberland comment, right on cue! unbelievable, seriously, I doubted the next level of status of Cumberland and he shuts me up by scoring a TD. I still believe he won’t get a chance in the NFL though. But this is actually turning out to be a much more entertaining game than I thought it would. 21-14 Illini, 1:36 left in half.

I wonder which FSU would win? Fresno state or Florida State. Let’s pour out some liquor for Bobby Bowden. By the way too late to get on the Seyi Ajirotutu bandwagon? seriously, Ajirotutu for the Biletnikoff award 09

Coburn hurt us making fun of him, he’s now 5-8 for 65 yards. led a very nice scoring drive into the wind, and the cold. Did we mention it’s COLD? Because of course, I’m sure the Big Ten Network isn’t mentioning that enough? how COLD it is.(PMB)

Illini head to the break tied at 21

WHOOPS I JUST SPOKE TOO SOON.

Instead of the Illini just taking a knee, Juice aired it out, badly underthrows Arrelious Benn on a deep fade route, Benn strips the ball out of the FSU defensive back’s hands. and turns a INT into a TD. Seriously! that might have the play of the year for Illini football. Funny funny stuff. A 58 yard TD pass, a scoring drive that took 15 seconds. And Benn improves his NFL Draft stock by 5 picks on that one play. (PMB)

And what you didn’t see on tv, was why Benn got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. He chucked the ball into the crowd to celebrate, and got flagged. I guess it’s good they didn’t show that on tv. don’t want to corrupt the virgin eyes of our nation’s youth football players. Have Benn set a bad example. Remember Steve Stone saying on Cubs broadcasts “for all you youngsters out there…..”

Illinois 28, Fresno State 21 12:40 left 3Q
Just checking in to say that the announced attendance at the game was over 48,000. I know it’s an old joke, but if there’s 48,000 here, about 28,000 those people, at least, are disguised as empty bench seats…

In all seriousness, if the attendance is half that, I would be surprised.  We estimated 20K at most in the first half, and there’s less than that now.  The student section isn’t half full.  There’s a couple of sections that have so few people in it you can count them on one hand.

And the shirtless guys are, once again, M. I. A. (PS)

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48,000?? I doubt that’s even the paid attendance let alone those who showed up. If it holds 65-70,000, and the stadium is clearly 65-75% empty the math is easy. Ryan Matthews, did I mention, he’s the nation’s leading rusher? scores on a 2 yard TD run, so it’s now 31-28 Illini 3:51 left (PMB)

Illinois 31, Fresno State 31 1:44 left 4Q
And the Illini turn it over on the kickoff.  Some dude we’ll never see again named London Davis made a terrible play on the kickoff, and it went straight through his arms into a Fresno State defender.  The Illini defense held and forced them three and out, but the game is tied up after the long field goal.

Shockingly, London Davis did make an appearance on the ensuing kick team.

Also, Juice Williams is back on the field after getting his bell rung on a play earlier in the third quarter.

Banks also just got me yelled at in the press box for being too loud.  I think I was being delightful, but, probably, I was acting like an ass.  It was something about Chris Brown changing his name to Mahmoud-Abdul Rauf, and then getting killed driving a truck in Iraq.  I don’t really have all the details….(PS)

Illinois 38, Fresno State 31 End 3Q
This one is getting a little crazy here. Mikel Leshoure just took off 61 yards straight up the gut for a long TD run at the end of the third quarter, giving the Illini back a one TD lead.

Leshoure had a long run perfectly set up on a similar dive play in the first quarter, but cut the ball right back into the defender and instead of gaining 20 yards gained roughly two. On this play, he had a similar situation, trying to split two defenders. Leshoure faked the cutback at one of the Bulldog defenders and then shifted to a higher gear. Both Fresno State defenders bit right on the fake and Leshoure blew right by them.

Illinois 38, Fresno State 38 12:56 left 4Q
Well, that was fast.  A nifty move by Ryan Mathews (did you know he is the nations’ leading rusher?) led to a 27 yard touchdown run and a tie football game.

I can safely say that the Illini defense has struggled in the second half today. The part that might be disheartening to Illini fans is that the Bulldog defense might finally be showing up.

Check that — 48 yard gain from Juice to Eddie McGee for a first down.  Unfortunately, they needed most of that for the first down…(PS)

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Illinois 45, Fresno State 38, 9:29 left 4Q
The Illini rushing offense is a juggernaut.  They have 45 points, and only 5 complete passes.  313 total rushing yards for the team, just insane. Mikel Leshoure just scored his second long TD of the game, this time going scoring from 19 yards out.

Leshoure’s numbers for the day? 11  rushes, 184 yards. 16.7 yards per carry! And before I could finish typing this entry….

Illinois 45, Fresno State 45 8:52 left 4Q
So…again…the Illini defense isn’t very good. But the Bulldogs needed just 2 plays to score and tie the game: A 42 yard dash from Ryan Mathews that only was stopped by Terry Hawthorne from scoring…and then the “fleet of foot” Ryan Colburn ran it in from 25 yards out.

And Illinois is already almost at midfield.  Incidentally, this game is already the highest scoring game in Memorial Stadium history. And it’s only been around since 1923…(PS)

Fresno State 53, Illinois 52 FINAL
Wow.  Just wow.  We disappeared to head down to the field, but at the same time, we were right on top of the plays for some description.  I’ll leave that to Banks, but there was some interesting info from the Illinois Presser.

Just a wild finish to a season that couldn’t have let down expectations any more than it did. To have things wrap up this way, really, made more sense than anything — how else COULD this season have ended up?  Not happily, that’s for certain.

Rejus Benn was very cagey after the game about his future plans. “That’s a decision that I will probably make down the road, and I’m not sure exactly what I am gonna do yet,” Benn said. “You know, I’ll probably make a decision sooner than later about whether I’m gonna stay or go.”

He was pretty upset about the way the game went down for the seniors on the team, as well. “Our last game of the season, you just don’t want to end it like that,” Benn said. “That’s just the game of football, and you can’t control it, and that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

Juice Williams was also fairly upset after the game, though he was all smiles at the podium.

“I am trying to cover it up,” Williams said. “I’m sad on the inside, but at the same time joyful, because I get a chance to reflect on all of the great memories that I’ve made with my brothers.”

I’ll have more thoughts on Juice Williams soon, but for now, that’s where I will leave things. (PS)

Juice Williams, All-Big Ten Selection!! Wait…Juice Williams, All-Big Ten Selection????

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By Paul Schmidt

Let me be the first to say, I love Juice Williams, and I want you to, too. 

I think he’s a great kid. 

I think he was the most deserving player of all that received mention as a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award Nominee. The grace with which he handled his demotion, and the teaching capabilities he showed with Eddie McGee and Jacob Charest surprised even me, an ardent supporter.

But an Honorable Mention nomination at quarterback?  Really?

Let’s go through some numbers…

Your first team QB was Darryl Clark, the conference’s leader in passing efficiency. That’s a good choice.  Your second team QB was Mike Kafka. While Kafka was fifth in passing efficiency, he was second in per game averages of total offense.  Again, a very defensible selection.  I might have gone with Purdue’s Joey Elliott (the conference’s leader in total offense per game), but either way, Kafka is a fine choice.

Now…here’s the honorable mention QBs: Juice Williams, Ben Chappell, Ricky Stanzi, Kirk Cousins, Scott Tolzien, Terrelle Pryor, and the aforementioned Elliott.

Now, I know you’re looking at that and thinking, holy crap, that’s nine of the 11 starting QBs in the conference.  Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. Given that list, it would be tough to leave Williams off, right? 

Wrong.

The only top ten list Williams’ name appears on on the conference statistical leaderboard is, surprisingly, in passing efficiency, where he ranks tenth.

He’s not on the total offense list, a place that a running QB like him should be a lock to make.

Not on the top ten list for the conference’s top passers in terms of yards, either.

Heck, he’s not even in the top ten of games started by quarterbacks in the conference, mustering only nine appearances and eight starts.  That’s right, an honorable mention Big Ten selection was benched halfway through the season.  That alone should result in automatic disqualification from the award…

The simple solution? Nine QB’s mentioned in the all-conference awards, one way or another, is just too many. Dropping the number of players named would not only raise the prestige of the award but lend some legitimacy, as well.

But, assuming that you’re locked into that number of players appearing on your final award sheet, one deserving player was not named.  Remarkable, considering the number that appeared, I know, but it’s true.

Where was Minnesota’s Adam Weber?

I know that the Minnesota writers here will slam this thought, but bear with me. 

First, when naming nine QBs in the awards, you have to consider that Weber, though awful at times and someone who took a major step backwards this season, still was statistically one of the top nine QBs in the conference this season. He finished 8th in passing per game and 10th in total offense. 

Plus, he was never benched this season.

Look, while I do applaud the Big Ten Conference for honoring as many players as possible, having nine QBs mentioned is simply too many.  There must be a way to pare this down some, lest you face looking foolish on a national stage.

Of even greater importance would be to eliminate players like Juice Willams from contention, perhaps not a step the conference wants to take. Even given that, instilling some sort of a minimum performance barrier, or giving the voters qualified names to vote for would be a good step for the conference to make; awarding 81.8% of your conference’s starting quarterbacks some type of All-Conference award is just patently ridiculous.

I would have gone with Clark as the first team selection, and Elliott at second team, followed by honorable mention selections for Stanzi and Cousins.  That’s it.  Four guys is still more than a third of the QBs in the conference, and more than enough nomination-wise.  Plus, naming just those four guys doesn’t make your conference look patently ridiculous.

Perhaps the most damning evidence against any awards for Juice comes from a web page listing his national ranks this season — 91st in the nation in passing efficiency and 93rd in total offense.

That page?

His biography page at www.fightingillini.com.  Ouch.