On Saturday, the University of Illinois football team (mascot uncertain — see below) brings a record of 3-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten to Beaver Stadium to face the mighty Nittany Lions of Penn State (4-3, 1-2 B1G). Both teams are coming off humiliating losses last week, with PSU having lost to Ohio State 63-14 and Illinois having gone down on Moo U. 42-3. And thus, this is — the Clash of the Titans!
In sportswriter parlance, both teams would be “looking to bounce back” from their tragic losses, but what the hell else would they be looking for? Failure? Alas, only one team will bounce back while the other will drop like a watermelon and go splat.
Here are the stats from last week, comparing both losers’ performances:
|Opponent yards passing||208||278|
|Opponent yards rushing||269||408|
|Opponent total yards||477||686|
|Opponent first downs||29||32|
|Opponent time of possession||39:06||33:21|
|Time of Possession||20:54||26:39|
So much for debacleball. Both teams better put last week behind them.
This ‘n’ That (that sounds gay)
Much of the Illinois offense revolves around the passing of Illinois’ senior quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase. [Wait! That reads like Scheelhaase died. Aw, hell. I'll leave it go the way it is. ---TNT] Forgetting about the shitty Moo U. game, let’s take a look at the 56-32 loss to Wisconsin for a clue as to what Scheelhaase can do to ya. His line in that game was 20-27 for 249 yards, no TDs and no INTs. No great shakes, but he’s an accurate passer, who is presently in fourth place among passers in the B1G and 26th in the BCS. Against the Penn State secondary — or absence of same — this is reason for some concern.
Of course, Scheelhaase has had his share of off-field distraction during the past week, as his old man was barred from the Illinois campus after being involved in a fight in the stands during the Moo U. loss. I guess there’s no injunction against his attending the game at Beaver Stadium, so wear your boxing gloves if you’ll be there.
Penn State is going to get lots of yards on the ground against Illinois’ 93rd ranked rush defense. The thing to look for is not a thing, it’s a person. Will Zach Zwinak reappear after his umpteenth fumble followed by a prime-time chewing out and end-of-bench forced exile at the behest of Bill O’Brien? It seems clear that Bill Belton is now the O’Brien anointed feature back. So, will Zwinak accept a lesser role? If he does, will he hang onto the ball?
The passing game will depend on a couple of things, the most significant being Christian Hackenberg’s shoulder both literally and figuratively. Will he recover from being ground into the turf at the behest of the Buckeye Brutes? Will he be the spiritual leader of the team and carry it on his wounded shoulders? He has the leading receiver in the B1G to throw the damn ball to, and if he can improve his reads, his accuracy, and his pocket awareness, between Allen “Gimme da Damn Ball” Robinson and his plethora of other weapons, Penn State should be able to do well through the air against a defense that has a guy with a V-apostrophe in the secondary.
(Do I sound like Phil Grosz here? “If Penn State makes the changes I tell them to make and Jupiter flies up my ass, then there is a great chance that the Nittany Lions will still finish 8-4 this year.” Or not.)
Special teams can, and often will, killya, as it were.
Illinois has a dangerous return game, while Penn State’s special teams are not anything to write home about. This gives me an opportunity to make fun of a name, so I’ll tell you that Illinispeedster V’Angelo Bentley is a sophomore with a future. He ranks 4th nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 30.8 yards. Penn State ranks #104 nationally in kickoff return defense, allowing an average of 24.30 yards per return. Something’s gotta give here. The V’Angeroo does punt returns, too and averages 15.8 there. This would rank him #7 nationally if he had enough returns to qualify for the minimum. (See, no one has to punt against Illinois, I guess.) Injuryspeakwise, V’Ange is listed as probable, with a “foot”. In his native Italy — wait! no, he ain’t Italian — that would be un piede.
Penn State is 37th in punt return defense. Meanwhile, return specialist Jesse Della Valle of Penn State ranks 19th returning punts. Problems with the kicking game and coverage have been apparent. Alex Butterworth doesn’t even rank in the top 94 punters. This will hurt PSU.
Other Suckage Factors
You all know where PSU sucks, so let me rub some of it in here. Turnover margin: Penn State ranks #108, with a -8. Don’t feel too bad, though. Illinois is right behind them, with a -5. The good news is the PSU has improved to #110 (from #122) in third down conversion percentage, now batting a solid (?) .311.
We’re back to the weedy backwaters of noon startages. I advised the gang that the food selection at The Cave this week would be replete with Wheaties, Cheerios, scrambled eggs, and coffee. Noon starts suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck! Fortunately, this is a home game, so there’s some chance of winning, but we’ll get a crappy broadcasting team, maybe including that broad who assumed Pam Ward’s position as token babe football announcer at ESPN. (But at least we’re getting ESPN, not ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, etc., so maybe we’ll get a real announcer.)
It should be an interesting time in The Cave, inasmuch as one of us, in the personage of Artificially Sweetened, is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Although she claims complete loyalty to Penn State, I saw her get pissed off at a Roethlisberger interception last Sunday, and she’s dangerous when she gets crossed like Big Ben did. Hackenberg better sure as hell avoid that wrath or we might have a counter-spy in our midst.
Heap Big Chief Illiniwek — The Original Illinus
Our famous alumnus feature this week examines the most famous honorary alumnus of a prince of a man, a non-football redskin, an injun chief, a guy who inhabited Illinois long before Abe Lincoln read all those damn books by the fire in his log cabin, the one, the only Chief Illiniwek!
Back in 2007, Chief Illiniwek danced his last official, University sponsored war dance at an Illinois basketball game. Embroiled in controversy over the purported offensive nature of his Fighting Illinihood, university officials capitulated to pressures from weenies who had nothing better to do with their time than do a little symbolic social engineering of their own. In the wake of the heap big chief’s dismantling — a move that also saw sports teams change from “Fighting Illini” to simply “Illini” — an organization called the Honor the Chief Society emerged with the ostensible purpose of clinging to the past tradition of war dances, peace pipes, and scalpings, or whatever.
Now, that group has been challenged legally and a settlement has been reached. The University is particularly interested in getting away from the cowboys & Indians phase of its existence, so it has put the clamps on Honor the Chief. They still have their own instance of the heap big chief and he still dances.
The society will not be allowed to do the following: use the term “Chief Illiniwek,” use the Chief logo, refer to people as Chief Illiniwek or refer to people as the next Chief Illiniwek. The society must also refrain from filling out additional trademark applications regarding Chief Illiniwek.
The Daily Illini editorialized in today’s issue:
So what now?
In the culture we live in, the issue of the Chief as a mascot won’t just disappear after a settlement. This resolved a legal issue but didn’t necessarily address the culture of the Chief that still exists on campus.
We don’t expect the University to change its stance after the latest development or in the near future, either.
Merely, the agreement perpetuates the issue whether portraying certain native dances are considered as tributes or offensive. University officials could have continued the fight and even extended its reach — tried to gain control over all activity over the Chief. But that would have left out the most important success from the discussion: a mutual agreement.
On the other hand, after five years, it didn’t seem like the Honor the Chief Society was going to step off the gas pedal and back down to the University’s demands.
A settlement of this nature was the right solution. Sure, the University and the Honor the Chief Society lost something here, but each has secured some rights, too.
Does anyone outside of the Illini community care?
Looks like the weather shouldn’t be much of a factor. A cold front will be passing through during the day, but the game should be played in reasonably sane conditions with a high around 56°F (515.67°R — for those of you who are devotees of the Rankine temperature scale). There might be a shower or two, courtesy of Kohler.
The Official Turkey Poop Prediction is finally upon us. After last week, I had to look to see where I stand. I cringed and found I was 5-2 straight up, 4-3 against the spread, and 5-2 on the over/under. Not bad, considering what we all think we’ve been through this year. I really screwed up last week, giving Penn State credit for some semblance of a defense. Maybe all the lobbying by Sanguinarians K. John and Phil Grosz have gotten through and clouded my brain. This week, I dunno. I sense a Nittany Lions team that dearly wants to forget last week and would dearly love to kick Tim Beckman’s ass. I hope they have a giant poster of Beckman hanging in the locker room.
Before the season started, I wrote the following about the Illinois game:
Illinois. Hahahahhahahhahahahha. LOLOLOL. LMAO. This is as close to a Division II opponent as PSU will face this year. LOL. The schmucks tried to raid our team when the NCAA declared it a free-for-all. Karma, baby! Karma!
That’s still the way I feel about this game. But I will show respect for Nate and V’Angelo. I promise.
The current gambling line is PSU minus 11 and an over/under of 56. (Sound familiar? That was the over/under for the OSU game, too. I screwed up, going with the under on that one.) This suggests a Penn State win with a final score of approximately 33-22 or thereabouts. Revenge will be so sweet. PSU 37, Illinois 20. Take the over.
(The Turkey will be back after the game to deliver his controversial recap and whatever else he feels like spouting.)