So they went and got rid of the mascot and tradition. Given the same scenario, and I had to chose a new school mascot, I would have gone with The Fightin' Lemans.
O, and he was a damn fine linebacker as well.....
On to the football...
One of the most bitter losses I have ever experienced came at the hands of Illinois last year. The scenario was that PSU was coming off of a devastating loss in Michigan, and needed something to pull this team together. Our first drive netted a Kevin Kelly field goal. The ensuing kickoff saw an untouched Arrelious Benn take it 90 yards to paydirt. The lone offensive highlight in game full of errors was Derrick Williams torching the Illinois secondary. The rest was full of Morelli thick-headed turnovers, lack of execution, etc. Given the above, it was weird that we were even still in this game with 27 seconds left. Again, Morelli removed all hope of victory by displaying his trademark unclutch abilities.
O, and Leman had an interception. But I digress.
In short, I just felt empty after that game. These were two games that PSU should have won, but didn't. This year, I want revenge.
Even with the loss of Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois has a few weapons we are to be concerned about:
Illinois returns starter Isiah John "Juice" Williams*, who looked somewhat impressive in the opener against Missouri. However, it was probably due to a crappy Missouri defense then anything else. I guess we'll find out when Missouri rolls through its lackluster schedule and hits a bowl game against a real opponent. His numbers through the air: 26/42, 451 yards, 5 TDs, 2 Int. He also rushed 19 times for 10 yards.
Against Eastern Illinois, Juice was a nightmare on the ground (16 car., 174 yards, 2 TDs), and meh as a QB (16/25. 124 yards, 1 TD, 2 Int.).
Against Louisiana-Lafayette, Juice went 13/25, 147 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int, and picket up another 35 yards on the ground on 11 tries.
This guy legitimately gives me nightmares. Last year, he was everywhere: 5 rushes for 8 yards, 6 catches for 84 yards and a TD, and a kick return for a TD. Not bad for a freshman.
Dufrene is off to a good start as a starter for the Illini, averaging 6.7 ypc and 100 ypg. Although he hasn't made it to the end zone this year, has has rolled up the numbers that would warrant attention.
What is most important to remember about last year's fuckup is that we did take Juice out of the game. Outside of a good first quarter, Juice was highly ineffective, and had to be replaced later by some chump named McGee. I have no doubt that our game plan regarding him is to simply keep him in the pocket, and force him to make bad plays. Getting Koroma and Evans back, even in limited roles, will no doubt bolster this stratagem. Other than that, keep a safety (Scirrotto) dedicated to Benn to remove anything over the top, keep an eye on Dufrene, and defensively we should have a good game.
Offensively, the only worry I have about PSU is losing the ball. There have been 11 times thus far the ball has hit the ground; while PSU has been lucky in recovering the majority of them, this is far too many. Add to this that the ball may be slick due to inclement weather, and we have the potential for a nightmare. Last year's game was decided by turnovers, and hopefully history won't repeat itself.
O, and PSU has the small intangibles of a night game and the White Out. Feelin' good about this one.
The final score:
*"Juice" has turned into a remarkably bad nickname in the past 14 years or so. Might want to go with something else here.