Monthly Archives: September 2010

NFL Pick Em (Week 3)

Standings

Southey: 10-6

Derek: 9-7

Week 3

Cleveland at Baltimore: Baltimore (both)

Cincinnati at Carolina: Cincinnati (both)

Dallas at Houston: Houston (both)

Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: (Southey) Tampa Bay, (Derek) Pittsburgh

New York Giants at Tennessee: Tennessee (both)

Atlanta at New Orleans: New Orleans (both)

Buffalo at New England: New England (both)

Detroit at Minnesota: Minnesota (both)

San Francisco at Kansas City: San Francisco (both)

St. Louis at Washington: Washington (both)

Philly at Jacksonville: Philly (both)

San Diego at Seattle: SD (both)

Indy at Denver: Indy (both)

Oakland at Arizona: (Southey) Oakland, (Derek) Arizona

NYJ at Miami: (Southey) Miami, (Derek) NYJ

Green Bay at Chicago: (Southey) Green Bay, (Derek) Chicago

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NFL Pick Em (Week 2)

     This week Southey and I are starting an NFL pick em, where each week we will pick the winners, with no spread. Sorry for putting this out late, but here they are.

Arizona at Atlanta: Atlanta (both)

Baltimore at Cincinnati: Baltimore (both)

Kansas City at Cleveland: Kansas City (both)

Chicago at Dallas: Southey- Chicago, Derek- Dallas

Philly at Detroit: Philly (both)

Green Bay at Buffalo: Green Bay (both)

Pittsburgh at Tennessee: Tennessee (both)

Miami at Minnesota: Southey- Miami, Derek- Minnesota

Tampa Bay at Carolina: Southey- TB, Derek- Carolina

Seattle at Denver: Southey- Seattle, Derek- Denver

St. Louis at Oakland: Southey- St. Louis, Derek- Oakland

New England at New York Jets: New England (both)

Jacksonville at San Diego: San Diego (both)

Houston at Washington: Southey- Houston, Derek- Washington

New York Giants at Indy: Southey: NYG, Derek- Indy

New Orleans at San Francisco: New Orleans (both)

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Scouting the Opponent: Northern Illinois (Part 1)

Overall Series: 3-0 Illinois

Last Matchup: Illinois 17, NIU 12 (2001)

Background: Saturday will mark the forth meeting between the Illini and Huskies, with the Illini having one the previous three matchups. Illinois handled NIU fairly easily during the two games in the early 90’s (92 & 94) but the Huskies gave the orange and blue all they could handle during the Sugar Bowl season of 2001. The Illini snuck by Northern behind two forth quarter TD passes from Kurt Kittner and a 126 yard receiving performance form Brandon Lloyd. Man, what I would pay to see those two suit up at Memorial one more time.

Northern Illinois

Best Player in Program History: Garrett Wolfe, RB (2002-2006). They might as well just put in picture of Garrett Wolfe in the NIU record book for rushing and keep the numbers out of it, because Wolfe owns nearly every category. Most career rushing yards, most rushing yards in a game, most career touchdowns, most career rushing touchdowns, most 100 and 200 yard rushing performances, is there any record this guy doesn’t own? Ball State knows just how good Garrett Wolfe is, watching him run for a ridiculous 353 yards against them in 2006.

My Favorite Husky: Michael Turner, RB (2000-2003). Burner Turner, who finds himself as one of the best backs in the NFL, was a stud at NIU. Garret Wolfe may hold most of the records, but Turner left his mark. His 1,915 rushing yards during his 2002 campaign ranks third in NCAA history for yards in a season. Though my exposure to Turner while he was in college was limited, Turner is a great NFL back and anyone who has him on their fantasy team should be very pleased. 

My Most Hated Husky: Michael Cklamovski, K. Okay, so I don’t hate him, nor do I dislike him, but he left Illinois to go to Northern so by default, he made the list. Trust me, this category will get much easier once we get into the Big Ten.

Favorite Illinois-NIU Moment: Illinois 17-12 victory in 2001. I don’t remember this game at all, but anything that happened in that 2001 season (minus games against Michigan and LSU) could be put on my list of favorites.

Reasons to Like Northern Illinois:

1. Julius Campbell (Remember the Titans). Actor Wood Harris, who plays Julius in Remember the Titans, is an NIU alum and played easily one of my favorite characters in any movie. Remember the Titans is legendary and so is Julius Campbell.

2. Homer Simpson. Though Homer did not attend NIU, Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, Krusty the Clown, and others, did.

3. They’re not from Indiana. Just kidding Hoosiers

 

Reasons to Dislike Northern Illinois:

1. Their basketball team doesn’t do Illinois any favors. Need a non conference game to boost your RPI? Don’t play NIU. Winning 26 games in the past three years is nothing to brag about. Want my advice? Recruit Josh Piper, I heard he’s pretty good.

-Derek Piper

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Illini 1-1, Look to Continue Showing Improvement

     After absorbing the tough week one loss to Missouri, the number one thing Coach Zook wanted to see from his squad against SIU was progress, and that’s exactly what he got from the 35-3 victory Saturday.

     “I think looking back at this past game we made progress. Obviously we have a long way to go but I think we are going in the right direction,” Zook said today at his weekly press conference.

     According to Zook, the Illini looked to show improvement in all areas Saturday night when they hosted the number two rated Salukis from Division 1-AA. The Illini dominated the game in all aspects: on offense, defense, and special teams, making for a happy head coach.

     ” I was really excited about the way the defense played. The defense played hard. I was excited about the fact that Nathan (Scheelhaase) made the progress that he needed to make; not only Nathan but also the whole offense in general,” Zook said.

Improving QB    

     As Zook noted, it was a great sight for Illini fans to see the vast improvement of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase from week one to week two. Just how much better was Scheelhaase? Take a look at the numbers.

Week 1

9-23, 81 yards, 3 INT’s, 16 carries, 76 yards, 1 fumble lost

Week 2

14-18, 229 yards, 2 TD’s, 0 INT’s, 7 carries, 4 yards

     Scheelhaase was extremely efficient in his second colligate start under center, and though it was against a 1-AA defense, it was important that the young quarterback made strides in the right direction after the ups and downs of the Missouri game. The Illini hope that as time passes and games are played, they will continue to get improvement from the quarterback position, and if you ask Scheelhaase, that is a guarantee.

     Coach Zook spoke with Scheelhaase last night, asking if he can be better this week than he was the last.

     “Nathan was watching tape a quarter after eleven last night and I said to him `Do you think you can make the same amount of progress this week as you did last week?’ and he said, `Absolutely.’ He didn’t have to think about it.”

A Stingy Defense

     In addition to the improvement of Scheelhaase and the offense as a whole, the new look defense also has elevated their performance , impressing many with their hard hitting and overall transformation from last season’s unit. After putting together one solid half against the high powered offense of Missouri, the Illini defense put it all together against the Salukis, holding them to only three points and forcing two turnovers.

     Many Illini defenders have impressed, but a big surprise on this year’s defense has been the play of linebacker Nate Bussey, who has taken pleasure in rattling some heads with his vicious hits. Bussey, who added four tackles this past Saturday, talked today about the reason behind the defense’s success.

     “The tackling is great right now, the past two games … Everyone is buying into what the coaches are saying and putting it all together and bringing it to the game.”

     Coach Zook has continued to express his happiness with the defense, but there is one player that he is continuing to push. A member of the 2010 Butkus Award Watch List, linebacker Martez Wilson, has been surrounded with high expectations since he arrived on campus in 2007. Now, after missing practically the entire 2009 season, Wilson is attempting to show he is the same player the Illini recruited four years ago. Wilson was criticized by many, including his own coach after the Missouri game, despite his 11 tackles, forced fumble, and 0.5 sack against the Tigers.

     Zook liked what he saw from the linebacker against SIU, but still thinks Wilson (3 tackles on Saturday) has a ways to go before he reaches his full potential.

     “I thought he made a lot of progress last week, but he’s still not where we all think he could be. We had a long talk after the Missouri game and once again he hadn’t played football in two years.”

Week 3

     This week, the Illini matchup with the ever-dangerous Northern Illinois Huskies. If the Illini want to come away with victory number two, entering the bye week on a high note, they will need to do what they did last week and more. Coach Zook understands the importance of this week and hopes that the progression of the Illini football team will continue into week three and beyond.

     “We’re not where we have to be, we have to continue to get better. We got a lot of young guys out there. This game’s going to be important that we go out there and continue to do the same things and play for 60 minutes.”

     The Illini have shown two different teams in 2010: the one that played the first half against Missouri and the entire game this past Saturday, and the one that fell flat on their face the final 30 minutes in St. Louis. If the first one shows up at 11 AM this Saturday, the Illini should rack up their second victory of the season. If not, the Huskies have a good shot at making Illinois their second Big Ten victim in two years (defeating Purdue in West Lafayette in 2009).

-Derek Piper

*More on the Northern Illinois game later this week

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Scouting the Opponent: Southern Illinois (Part 2)

     

     After an 11-1 regular season in 2009, the Salukis are back in 2010 with high expectations. The number two rated team in Division 1-AA is looking to make their mark against a Big Ten team, something they did back in 2006 after defeating Indiana. The Salukis were impressive against Quincy last week in their 70-7 victory. Unfortunately for SIU, playing Quincy college in Carbondale and playing the Illini are two entirely different animals.

Top Returning Players (Week 1 stats)

Chris Dieker, QB (Sr): 11-15, 148 yards, 2 TD’s

      After leading the Salukis to a 5-1 record in 2009, a broken collarbone against Youngstown St sidelined Dieker for the rest of the season. Now, Dieker is back to pick up where he left off last season, leading a Saluki offense that gained nearly 400 yards per game in 2009. The senior quarterback was one of 25 college quarterbacks that were invited to the Manning Passing Academy this summer, so the Illini secondary better be ready.

Lucien Walker, RB (Sr): 12 carries, 114 yards, 3 TD’s

     In 2009 Walker was the team’s third leading rusher, but now he is the go to guy. Walker exploded last Saturday with over 100 yards and three scores on only 12 carries. For Southern Illinois to win this Saturday, Lucien Walker is going to need another Hershel Walker-type performance.

Mike McElroy, FS (Sr): 3 tackles

     Considered one of the best defensive backs in the country by multiple sources, Mike McElroy returns for his final season in Carbondale after starting at free safety the past two seasons. McElroy led the team in interceptions with seven in 2009. This offseason McElroy was ranked the third best free safety in the FCS by football analyst Phil Steele.

Notable Inactives

Southern Illinois

None

Illinois

Suppo Sanni, DB (Jr): ACL (OUT FOR SEASON)

Terry Hawthorne, DB (So): Foot (OUT)

Zach Becker, TE (Jr): Foot (OUT)

Michael Buchanan, DE (So): Suspended (DUI)

Key Matchup

Illinois Front Seven vs. Southern Illinois rushing attack

     After matching up against a pass heavy offense in Missouri, Illinois will be faced with stopping a run-first attack against the Salukis. Walker ran all over Qunicy, but this is a Big Ten defense. The Illini are without yet another defensive starter, but they should have no problem containing the run with the likes of Martez Wilson, Ian Thomas, and others. If the Saluki ground game stalls, this game will be all Illini. However, if the Salukis find a way to recreate what they did last week, the Illini could be in for a long one.

Southern Illinois Wins If…

     The Illini offense continues to struggle and the Illini are unable to slow down Southern Illinois’ running game.

Illinois Wins If…

     They decide to show up. The Illini should be able to run the ball at will and hopefully get something going in the passing game. The defense looked good, for the most  part, last week in St. Louis against a Missouri offense, they should look great against an Division 1-AA offense.

The Verdict

     I don’t want to say there is no chance the Illini lose Saturday, trust me, I’ve seen the Appalachian St-Michigan highlights. Southern Illinois looks to be a good football team, ranked second in Division 1-AA for a reason, but like I said, this is the Big Ten. The Illini have not proved anything just yet, other than the fact that they can put one good half together, but I believe they will put it together this week. In front of a packed crowd on their home opener, the Illini won’t lose this game.

     Scheelhaase and the offense look much improved Saturday, scoring in both halves this week. The Illini defense won’t be perfect, but they will give up less than 70 points, I can assure you of that.

Illinois 31 – Southern Illinois 13

-Derek Piper

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Scouting the Opponent: Southern Illinois (Part 1)

Overall Series: 2-0 Illinois

Last Matchup: Illinois 56, SIU 21 (1990)

Background: The Illini and Salukis have squared off only twice in their football program histories. Both games were played in Champaign, with the Illini winning each of the matchups. Illinois won handily in 1990, behind the record breaking performance of Howard Griffith, who rushed for eight touchdowns, breaking the NCAA record for points and rushing touchdowns in a single game. In 1985, the Illini just barely squeaked by the Salukis, 28-25.

Southern Illinois

Best Player in Program History: Arkee Whitlock, RB (2004-2006). The first player that everyone thinks of when you say Southern Illinois football is Brandon Jacobs, but when you look at production in college, Arkee Whitlock is the cream of the crop. Whitlock, in only three seasons, ranks second in Saluki history in rushing TD’s (51) and rushing yards (4,241). Whitlock is currently a running back for the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.

My Favorite Saluki: Brandon Jacobs, RB (2004). Granted there weren’t too many to choose from, Brandon Jacobs was and still is a monster. The Auburn transfer only played one season for the Salukis but made a huge impact on a team that was rated number one in Division 1-AA for most of the season. Jacobs set the single season record at SIU for yards per carry at 6.6 in 2004.

My Most Hated Saluki: The Saluki himself. Instead of putting a player here that I have no reason for disliking, or knowing for that matter, I decided to put possibly the ugliest looking mascot in college sports. Portrayed after an ancient Egyptian dog, this mascot is hideous. I will give the Saluki one thing, if there was a Hoosier mascot, it would be much, much uglier, if anyone actually knew what a Hoosier looks like.

Favorite Illinois-SIU Moment: Being that I was born after Howard Griffith shredded the Saluki defense in 1990, I will have to say opening kickoff this Saturday where I will be watching from the Block I.

Reasons to Like Southern Illinois:

1. Illinois beats them. Not only have the Illini beaten the Salukis the two times they have played them, they are also 11-0 all-time against other public universities in Illinois. Let’s keep that streak going.

Players Ball at Southern Illinois

2. Party, Party, Party. What can I say, the Salukis know how to have a good time. SIU has consistently ranked near the top of unofficial “best party schools in the country” lists, and for good reason. Heck, they even got Drake, my boy, to make his first performance in the United States on their campus at the Players Ball.

3. Bruce Weber. They like Bruce Weber, we like Bruce Weber. Can’t we all just be friends?

Reasons to Dislike Southern Illinois:

1. Dippin’ Dots. That’s right, the founder of the “ice cream of the future” went to SIU. Can someone explain to me why there is a need for ice cream in pebble-form? Dairy Queen > ice cream pebbles.

* More on the Illinois-SIU matchup tomorrow

-Derek Piper

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Illini Grab Early Lead, But Can’t Hold On

     The Illini did something Saturday that they hadn’t done in the six years of the Arch Rivalry, take a lead into halftime.  Unfortunately for the orange and blue, they weren’t able to do another thing they have failed to do against Missouri the past eight years, win the game.           

     With the stellar play of the Illini defense and an effective run-first offense, highlighted by a 64 yard opening drive that ate up over nine minutes of the first quarter, Ron Zook took his squad into the locker room with a 13-3 lead at halftime. This was a new football team, one that was finally ready to take down Missouri and tear into the 2010 season prepared to shock the world, that was until Coach Zook reminded us in his halftime interview that there was still 30 minutes left to play.

     To the misfortune of Zook and the Illini faithful, the game that looked to be all orange, began to “fade to black” in the 5:22 that it took for Mizzou to force a 3-and-out and throw a TD pass to T.J. Moe to open up the 3rd quarter. From there, it was all Tigers.

     Missouri began cracking down on the Illini rushing attack, practically decimating the Illinois offense who only gained 86 yards of total offense in the 2nd half. Missouri’s defense also turned up the heat on first year starter Nathan Scheelhaase, having the QB running for his life for the remainder of the game.

     The Mizzou defense set the table in the second half, and Blaine Gabbert began to feast. Throwing for 281 yards and two TD’s, both in the second half, Gabbert picked his way through the Illini defense who struggled to pressure the junior quarterback.

     With that being said, the Illinois defense did all they could to hold off an offense, that was 13th in the nation in passing last season, for nearly three quarters, until Gabbert hit Michael Egnew in the back of the end zone on a 3rd down from the 6 yard line.

     The Illini offense had multiple chances to answer in the 4th quarter, but a punt and multiple turnovers resulted in a goose egg for the quarter and the half. Two drives were ended abruptly on interceptions from Scheelhaase (9-23, 81 yards, 3 INT’s, 1 fumble lost) on passes that were just out of the reach of Eddie McGee’s grasp.

     However, the defense continued to fight, giving the Illini offense one more chance with the ball, down a TD with 3:31 left on the clock. After three downs and a couple of penalties, all hope was lost when Mikel Leshoure was called out of bounce on a 4th down pass that would have given the Illini the ball near midfield with 1:23 to go.

On to the Next One    

     It wasn’t meant to be and now the Illini must focus getting back on track against Southern Illinois this Saturday. Many are quick jump all over this team, saying “there go the Illini finding yet another way to lose football games,” but trust me, it’s bigger than that.

     You can’t help but be encouraged with we saw out of the Illini defense, who looked as good as they have looked against Missouri since 2003. The main thing that struck me was the way defenders, especially the secondary, laid the wood on Saturday. There was no better example than Nate Bussey’s bone crushing hits on back to back screens to T.J. Moe. I liked what I saw out of the defense and think Vic Koenning will have his unit looking better than any defense we have seen in Champaign since the Rose Bowl.

      Offensively, four turnovers out of your quarterback is not ideal, but freshman quarterbacks make freshman mistakes. Scheelhaase showed that he is not a polished passer, but his ability to run is unmatched by anyone not named Denard Robinson. Scheelhaase will improve and begin to feel more comfortable in the offense as time goes on. Zook told the media that Saturday night Scheelhaase was watching the Missouri film, and he was back Sunday morning watching some more. There’s a guy committed to getting better.

      The Illini are still an unknown. Was the first half a fluke or was the second half a letdown? Zook & Co will tell you that the first half is closer to what the real Illini should look like in 2010. Hopefully the real Illini will show up for both halves in Champaign this Saturday.

*More on this weekend’s matchup later this week

-Derek Piper

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