Illinois 38, Northwestern 35: Rapid Reaction

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It was a game that could have changed the Northwestern season. The Wildcats had Dan Persa back, had an 18-point lead on the road, and had momentum. Then, it all fell apart.

Northwestern did everything in its power to lose on the road at Illinois. So did the Fighting Illini. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, fate appeared to be favoring orange over purple in the Big Ten season opener. Northwestern fell to Illinois 38-35, allowing the Illini to keep possession of the Land of Lincoln trophy. [Read more…]

A Glimpse Into The Illini Future: Quarterback Jacob Charest

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By Paul Schmidt

While the Illini were falling to the Northwestern Wildcats, essentially ending their long shot run at a bowl bid, Illini fans did get an extended look at next year’s early leader in the starting quarterback race, Jacob Charest, the redshirt freshman out of Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina.

Charest posted some modest numbers but, after being benched to start the second half, led two fourth quarter touchdown drives to make things interesting in their 21-16 loss to the Wildcats.

Charest was a little surprised at how easily things came in the fourth quarter, but knew that practice, in this case, definitely helped.

“(The two minute offense) actually wasn’t…it wasn’t as different as I thought it would be,” Charest said. “You know, in practice, that’s such a huge part of the end of practice.  Everyone goes 100 percent on that, so it’s kind of like a game situation.”

The start of the game, however, was a little different for Charest who thought things definitely paced differently.

“It was a little different,”  Charest said. “If nothing else it was a little bit quicker. It wasn’t too bad.”

It did seem that Charest started the game in a little bit of a groove, and that could have been due to the scripting of the first several plays of the game — Charest knew what was coming.  However, he believed that it was just a few errant throws that took his momentum away.

“The first few plays of the game are scripted, but we don’t necessarily stick to them. But we try to script them, yes,” Charest said. “I was in a rhythm early, but then I don’t really know what happened. I missed a few throws, and things kind of went from there.”

As for being benched heading into the third quarter, he did know that was coming, as he was told at halftime, but the coaches also let him know that he would most likely see more action as the game went on, so to not get his head out of the game.  Charest wisely used that as a learning experience, and it certainly translated into results, as he went 9-13 Charestpassing in the fourth quarter.

“It helped a little bit, I could kind of see the coverage from a different point of view than actually being on the field,” Charest said.  “I could see what the DBs were doing on the field without having to deal with the pressure of the pass rush. It didn’t make a huge difference though.”

The giant elephant in the room was certainly Charest’s interpretation of the last play of the game on offense, and whether or not it was a reception for Jarred Fayson, or an interception for Sherrick McManus.

“Yeah, Jarrod caught it, and the other guy came up with it somehow, but I thought that Fayson caught it 100 percent, not that it was an interception,” Charest said. “We all really didn’t think that, because we were heading up to the line getting ready for the next play. It seems like nobody thought it was a pick except for the referee. Well, when we saw the call when we were all running over to the line, and we were just stunned.”

Still, it is a good sign for Illinois fans that Charest was exhibiting great confidence on the field, and with some young offensive skill players he could cement a solid offensive future. The best sign from Charest after the game? His response to the question of what he was thinking about heading on to the field prior to their Illini’s last drive of the game.

“I thought 100 percent we were going to go down and score when we got the ball back,” Charest said.

Videos From Northwestern’s Land of Lincoln Victory over Illinois

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By Paul M. Banks

Just moments ago, Northwestern beat Illinois 21-16 to become the first ever owners of the Land of Lincoln trophy. The intrastate rivalry has a new trophy this year, and NU became the first of the two teams to win it. The first video below shows team captain Brendan Smith holding the trophy, as teammates Corey Wootton and others celebrate and sing the school fight song on their way to the visitors locker room at Memorial Stadium.

The second video, this next one below is of Wildcats’ Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald, and his post-game press conference. I trimmed it down to two minutes. By the way, I’m the reporter asking the question about his 2nd half adjustments to shut down Illinois’ ground game.

Illinois vs. Northwestern- the Abraham Lincoln Bowl

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By Paul M. Banks and Paul Schmidt

(PMB) What a difference a week makes. Before last Saturday, this game was looking pretty close to meaningless. Now there’s bowl aspirations on both sides, both teams are riding momentum from victories, and there’s a brand new Land of Lincoln trophy on the line. But here’s the thing I don’t get. You’re the betting man of the two of us, so please tell me- Why is 3-6 Illinois a 4 pt. favorite over 6-4 Northwestern?

That seems ridiculous given a.) the records b.) the underdog just gave previously #8 Iowa their first loss of the season in Iowa City, much more impressive than beating a very mediocre Minnesota team on the road c.) NU owns this series of late, Illinois’ only recent wins have come when they’re having a fluky “Champaign Campaign” season (’01 and ’07) And the team with the better record has won 10 of the last 11.

Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s response to being underdogs:

“If I were to use that as motivation I’d have to probably use it every week so I’d be beating a dead horse.”

(PS) Well, you’re falling into a trap there. Vegas only sets the line in order to get equal amounts of action on either side of it.  It minimizes their losses. It’s really a common mistake that everyone makes, that Vegas thinks one team is the favorite and the other isn’t.  I suppose that it would be more accurate to say the betting public thinks the Illini are a favorite, but even that isn’t all that accurate, because half of the action is still going to the Northwestern side of the ledger.

But, for the sake of argument, I’ll grant the premise.  And the premise is sound.  Illinois IS the better team, even if they haven’t played like it prior to these past couple of weeks.  As for Northwestern’s “big win”, it’s against a pretty fraudulent Iowa team (coming from someone who had defended them)…so I don’t know if you can put much stock into that.  I also think that the Illini, as a home team, will fill Memorial Stadium, and actually provide a difficult environment for Northwestern to play in.  Remember, they aren’t all that used to playing in full stadiums (I know, last week aside…).

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(Special thanks to our friends at Spread Far the Fame for the picture. See this link for more)

And to see another Pat Fitzgerald soundbite featured in the Chicago Sun-Times blog (yes, some TSB self-promotion) click here

(PMB) Oooh, a little shot there at Northwestern’s home attendance. Hey the glass at Ryan Field isn’t half-empty….it’s more like 5/8 or 3/4 empty.

I can’t believe I wrote that Illinois might have the nation’s best receiving corps back in August. A lot of people thought that actually. But well, the Illini passing game sucks, and has sucked the whole season. Essentially making this group the biggest disappointment, in a season filled with tremendous disappointments. I asked Fitz about them on Monday, phrasing my question more professionally of course. He was quite political in his answer

“I see a lot of talent and I see guys that are making plays all over the place. Maybe not from a stats standpoint compared to expectations from outside of the program but I see a group that is playing well. They’re deep, they play six or seven guys, and you include Michael (Hoomanawanui), who I know has been banged up at tight end and I’m not even going to try to pronounce his last name. He’s as athletic of a big guy as there is in this league.”

The Illini are dead last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, passing offense and passing efficiency Your take?

(PS) They still have the best receiving corps in the league and the nation — Week in and week out they have seven or eight different guys catching balls.  They’re so good that one of the top recruits in the nation last year, Terry Hawthorne out of East St. Louis, brought in to play wide receiver, has played defensive back and starred the last two weeks.ron_zook-232x300
Just because the quarterback play has been — ahem — spotty, doesn’t mean the WRs are at fault. It does, certainly, impugn the QB play. And the offensive play calling.  And there, my friends is the Illini’s problem — no consistency from the leader of the offense, the quarterback, and flat-out terrible playcalling and scheming from the offensive coordinator, Mike Schultz.
(PMB) I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Yes, Juice has regressed terribly, but he can’t help it when Cumberland drops yet another easy catch. So it’s gonna be Jacob Charest this week, right? I have no idea who’s going to start for NU, both QBs are dinged up. Probably a 70-75% healthy Mike Kafka. That’s the unfortunate aspect of this rivalry game- always late in the season, when there’s a ton of injuries on both sides.

But this game has has recently had more on the line the last couple decades. For the third year in a row there’s bowl implications on both sides…
(The video below is loaded with imagery, the Cats represent the NU Wildcats, the toilet signifies the 2009 Illini season with its lofty expectations going unfulfilled)

(PS) Ladies and gentlemen, let’s meet your 2010 Illini!  I enjoy Jacob Charest’s work.  I know you weren’t impressed with him, PB, during the Purdue game but he had a lot of poise and seemed to know what he was doing.  I think Charest can lead the Illini to the win, I genuinely do.  I also think that they can control the ball with their impressive running game. No one is more surprised than me that Mikel Leshoure has turned into a feature back with Jason Ford as a capable backup. But the biggest point is that they give Charest a little bit of a cushion and a little margin for error.  Honestly?  I think that’s all they’ll need this weekend.
As for bowl implications for the Illini, well…they need to win out.  But they’re still alive, and that’s all you can ask for given this season, I guess.

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(PMB) Well Charest can prove me wrong if he so desires. So are you feeling this rivalry? Do you feel the acrimony? Or do Northwestern people just hate the Illini more than the other side? Predictions…I’m saying Northwestern 27-23.

(PS) I’m feeling the ennui; that’s right, I said ennui.  I’ll flip the score, Illinois 27, Northwestern 23, and Jacob Charest is the MVP. He also tackles Willie the Wildcat and pummels him for good measure.

(PMB) I just picked up my cat from her surgery today (she’s fine- all is well and great) so your animal cruelty joke is extremely offensive sir!

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