After attending Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Stadium last Saturday, I will state this of our Fighting Illini football players: there is more enthusiasm and emotion among them than I have seen in a long time.
As a former coach, I am concerned about the tough schedule they face this season.
As a former player, I am optimistic that this challenging schedule presents a lot of great opportunities. As I have said before, no opponent has seen their new offense or defense and that is something to get excited about. These players do not care what happened last season against Missouri — or the previous four years for that matter.
All they know is their season starts September 4. I believe Missouri should be prepared to get a taste of their own medicine. The coaches, I am sure, can live with physical mistakes as long as we remain positive and limit our mental mistakes. This is an exhilarating time to be an Illini fan!
What a difference a year makes. Last year as we approached the Arch Rival game against Missouri, we had an experienced offense as senior Juice Williams led a talented receiving core into the Edward Jones dome in St Louis. For the first time in four years, the Illini were favored to win the game. That was before sophomore QB Blaine Gabbert took the field-throwing 313 yards and three touchdowns then running in a fourth. No one could have foreseen this stellar starting debut which led the rebuilding Tigers to a 37–9 victory over Illinois, their fifth win in a row in the neutral-site series.
This year freshman Nathan Scheelhaase will make his starting debut in this same Arch Rival showcase. Currently, Illinois is a 13 point underdog in the sixth and final game of the series. How ironic would it be if underdog Illini with a new offense and defense pulled off the upset? Upsets will need to be the theme for this group of Fighting Illini football players, with the odds-makers predicting us underdogs in nine of our twelve games. Ouch!
In Missouri’s first major scrimmage of fall camp several big plays highlighted the simulated game. Two long pass plays for scores, an interception for a score, and a 57-yard field goal were all key features. In their second scrimmage, QB Blaine Gabbert led his first string offense to a productive day. Gabbert finished the day 16 for 21, passing for 208 yards to score three times — to WR T.J. Moe (9 yards), TB Derrick Washington (31 yards), and TE Michael Egnew (23 yards).
Injury Update: When Missouri meets Illinois on Sept 4, 2010, they will play without #29 WR Jerrell Jackson, the team’s leading returning receiver who suffered a broken wrist in practice. Jackson is expected to miss at least four weeks. Illinois will be without #7 SS Supo Sanni who tore his Achilles tendon and is out for the season. Also, #41 TE/FB Zach Becker and #1 CB Terry Hawthorne will miss at least three games both with stress fractures of the foot.
Missouri will also be without #24 Derrick Washington who has been charged with one count of felony sexual assault, and has been dismissed from the team. Also long snapper #86 Beau Brinkley and reserve LB #32 Will Ebner both awaiting hearings for suspicion of DWI.
Illinois opens its 121st season of varsity football Saturday against Missouri. It’s time to put the FIGHT back in Fighting Illini. I believe this football squad can do this, and I predict an Illini victory in a squeaker.
Prep Picks week #2: SP Wildcats, GCMS Falcons, VG Blue Devils, STM Sabers, Unity Rockets, SJO Spartans, MS Bulldogs, Central Maroons, Centennial Chargers.