Only three more days till gameday, which means only three more days for more Gopher football and basketball players to get arrested. Let's hope everybody can find something better to do than run afoul of the law, like going to class and practice. Or just not trying to pick fights or shoplift. Or if anyone has a spare PS3 or Wii, I think some of these guys could use one for something to do with their spare time (and if not them, then I certainly could. My wife would disagree but trust me, my household needs one! And if you could include NCAA Football 10 and/or FIFA 10 with the PS3, it'd be appreciated. After all, it's almost Christmas! Or at least according to those in the retail world).
Anyway, as we focus on the task at hand Saturday, I can't help but feel nervous about playing Illinois. Illini blogger Joe Kutsunis of Hail to the Orange sums up his Jeckyl and Hyde team much better than I could:
Its living life on the margins of football. It would seem to me impossible for this team to be just mediocre. It seems like it is built to explode, either in a good way or bad. Every game seems like it is just a domino rally that will either fall to one side or the other depending on how a simple small event dictates it. Maybe that's why Zook has been looking for that spark, something to get things rolling, because he knows when the boulder of offense is rolling in one direction it is impossible to stop.
Just as it was hard to believe that a Gopher offense that had been SO bad all season was capabale of the explosion they had against Michigan State, so too was it baffling to see an Illinois squad that had looked so inept for much of the season blow out Michigan. Heck, it was the Illini's first win against a 1-A team all season!! Seriously, go ahead and read that last sentence again. As Stewy Griffin would say "What the DEUCE?!?"
It wasn't that Illinois lacks talent. After all, some bonehead picked them to share the Big Ten title this year (what an idiot that guy is) because of senior QB Juice Williams, junior wideout Arrelious Benn, and a wealth of offensive talent around them. After crapping the bed against Missouri in the opener, I kept waiting for that talent to show, but I finally gave up after a home loss to Michigan State October 10th that dropped them to 1-4. Two more losses to the two Indiana schools (with the Hoosiers coming off a 47-7 loss no less), and it looked like the Illini had quit on the Zooker. Especially considering Illinois' AD came out to say Zook's job was secure, it looked like the Illini had nothing to play for but pride, and if you're 1-6, what pride could you have left?
Well plenty apparently. After all of that, and playing host to a desparate Michigan squad last week, Illinois came out and played like the team most of us expected them to be before the season. They racked up 500 yards total offense, including a gawdy 377 on the ground. Two backs each went over 128 yards, and Juice, who had been the worst starting QB in the conference not named Adam Weber, played like the guy who led the Big Ten in total yards in 2008, rushing for 97 and a TD while also completing eight of 11 passes for 123 and another score. Sure, Benn still hasn't woken up (he had just one catch for 11 yards and on the season still hasn't topped three hundred yards receiving or hauled in a touchdown pass), but after last week's explosion, would it surprise you at all if Benn suddenly lived up to the preseason hype and potential of being All-conference and a possible All-American and went off against the Gopher secondary?
I don't know about you, but it would surprise me about as much as if the Illini turned back into the stinking pile of crap they've been for most of the season. Or if Adam Weber and the Gophers put up 400 yards passing again. Or if the Gophs continue to pick up as many penalties as the Twin Cities police have picked up Gopher athletes of late (ooooooh too soon? Sorry). Or if somehow they went back to being the worst offense in the Big Ten. That's the thing: I really have NO idea what to expect Saturday because both of these teams have been so maddeningly inconsisent. Although to be fair, as much as I've complained about a lot of things this year, I'd much rather deal with the Gophers issues and be 5-4 coming off a strong performance against a Michigan school than be Illinois and be 2-6 coming off a strong performance against a Michigan school.
Still, it makes me really nervous about Saturday's game. If the Gophers can bring the offense and defense to this one that they had against the Spartans- and of course leave the 17 penalties behind- I love their chances no matter what Illinois does. But still, what are the chances Minnesota has turned the corner and figured it out? And what are the chances Illinois win over Michigan was a fluke or a flash in the pan? Is Michigan that bad or has Illinois awoken from its slumber in time to try to ruin our season?
You KNOW Tim Brewster and the rest of the coaching staff are taking this seriously, and are telling their kids over and over and over to throw out Illinois record and just look what they did against Michigan. That team, the one who rolled to 500 yards and 38 points is the one coming to town, and THAT is the team you must prepare for. Hopefully the players get that message- as well as the one to stay out of the clink- and we'll get another effort like we did in last Saturday's win over Michigan State, and hopefully, another win.