An Open Letter to Illinois’ Clay Nurse

illinois

Dear Clay,

I was wrong.

I’m willing to admit that. According to my wife I’m wrong a lot. For better or worse though, I know a lot about sports, and a whole lot about football. I’m right more often than I am wrong.

But I was dead wrong about you, the defense and Illinois football this season.

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Illinois-Minnesota Preview

Illinois fans rush the court after the game  Demetri McCamey

By Paul M. Banks and Mike Gallagher

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Illini Win??!!?? Yes, You Read That Right!

ROSE BOWL
By Paul Schmidt

There’s no one anywhere who predicted an Illinois win Saturday against Michigan.  I’m about the biggest Illinois apologist that there is, and even I was urging you to bet against the Illini, and to lay 7 points while doing it!

After a short amount of time, however, the glow of a great victory has waned and left two very poignant questions to be asked.

The first is whether this was a victory from an Illinois team finally playing up to expectations, or whether this victory can completely be attributed to the wheels falling off of this Michigan teams’ wagon.

The more that I think about the game, the more I really believe the latter to be true.  Michigan’s defense is starting to play ridiculously bad.  It’s almost getting comical at just how bad they are playing.

The Wolverines are doing whatever the opposite of peaking is, winning only one game in their last five, with that win being against FCS opponent Delaware State. With NCAA investigators descending upon Ann Arbor, RichRod looking dirtier than Rod Blagojevich and a best-case scenario of six wins (with games remaining against Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State, winning one would be an accomplishment), Michigan is definitely in disarray.

Illinois just managed to take advantage of that.

The second question is much more accusatory towards the Illini — Just where was this type of offensive production all season?? I understand that Michigan’s D isn’t that good, and that Illinois just managed to take advantage of it. But 55 rushes for 377 yards? Illinois didn’t even manage that production against Illinois State earlier this season, in their only other win. That type of production has little to do with the quality of your opponent — You’re just getting the job done up front and mangling a team when you get that many yards. And even if Michigan’s defense (along with coordinator Greg Robinson) is terrible, Illinois still was great on offense, just like everyone thought they would be all season long.

So why now? Why, when they are 1-6, and 0-5 in the Big Ten, can Illinois suddenly move the football?  Why is the offense NOW able to create some opportunities? Why did it take so long for this team to finally get motivated and put up the effort which we all knew they were capable of?

Zook_thinkingUnfortunately, those are all questions that only Ron Zook has the answer to, and no doubt he’s not giving anyone the answers.

And therein lies the ultimate problem.

This team would have almost been better off playing horribly the rest of the season — this win only provides a ridiculous tease to an increasingly more disenchanted fan base.  While they were certainly placated during the second half, and most likely after the game as well, soon all of their minds will turn to these questions, namely, just where was all this effort all season long?

If Zook can’t figure out what worked this week, and how to consistently squeeze this type of effort out of his team, remarkably, the win may end up reflecting worse on him than any loss would have.