It wasn't that I was so impressed with Cincinnati's dismantling of
the Purdue Boilermakers a week ago, because frankly, I haven't
studied the Boilers one iota yet this season, and I have no idea if
they are good or bad. Anytime you beat a team like that and
thoroughly dominate in all phases, you have to feel good about it
even if you just beat Whatsamatta U.
I also almost always shudder
whenever Illinois plays a team that runs some variation of the
spread offense. The Illini seem to struggle against teams like that
and do not always match up well with them. Then you hear that Cincy
hired coach Tommy Tuberville, who seemingly has had success
everywhere he has coached. You couple all that, then realize that
the Illini defense gave up 34 points to a Southern Illinois team,
and when you put that all together, you don't go into Saturday's
contest expecting a decisive win. At least I don't.
I did make the trip over. And I felt like Illinois could be
competitive. And I believed if we could keep it close, we could
maybe win a squeaker on a late field goal ... oh ye of little faith!
The reason I felt good about Illinois is the offseason
acquisition of new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit. I think this
guy is the real deal. I told LDN's Greg Taylor that I was confident
Cubit would guide us to putting points on the scoreboard. I felt bad
about Illinois because not stopping SIU very much was not boding
well for our chances of stopping a high-octane offense like that of
the Bearcats. Let me stop right here and send kudos to our defense
for keeping what I think is a good offensive team under 20 points.
If I hadn't seen it, I might not believe it.
I know you should never second-guess the great coaches of all
time, but as your LDN reporter, I do have some serious questions as
to what Cincy was trying to do on Saturday. For a while they were
shuttling QBs in and out, and I thought it was disruptive ... to
their own team. While the one QB is certainly solid, the Bearcats
were much harder to stop or even to contain while Muchie Legaux was
over center. By the way, if he doesn't possess the name of the year,
he should make the short list.
Also, LDN wants to send best wishes to him on a speedy recovery,
as he was hit hard late in the game and sustained a nasty broken
leg. Legaux is too good to be held down, and I'd like to see him
again later this year or next season -- not against us, but rather
terrorizing one of our rivals!
Anyway, back to other things that I liked. I like the multiple
sets, with multiple play options. The more looks you give 'em with
different packages of receivers, the more difficult Illinois becomes
to scout and the more difficult they become to stop.
My one concern is our ability to run the football, but I am not
going to belabor that point today and take away from a surprising
and satisfying victory!
[to top of second column]
To prove the point of total involvement, I believe 11 different
Illini receivers caught a pass. That is what I call total team
disbursement and throwing the ball around the yard. It will also
help set up Nathan Scheelhaase's ability to tuck the football and
When Cincy's defense was concerned about Scheelhaase's running,
it allowed him a little more time in the pocket, and he's throwing
the ball about as well as I have ever seen him.
Again, my compliments to the cook -- nice job, Bill Cubit. You
see I had studied coach Cubit before. Illinois has faced his Western
Michigan teams before, and as far as I was concerned, he gave us
fits. We did eke out a 17-14 win a couple of seasons ago, but it was
anything but pretty. I thought his offense was terrific, and we had
more athletes than he did. Anyway, I like his schemes, and I think
they will help disguise some of the things we can do and hide some
of the things we can't do.
Anyway, the Illini did win the contest 45-17 before 43,031
surprised patrons, but midway through the third quarter the Bearcats
were knocking on the door, and a chip shot field goal would've made
the score 21-17 and given Cincinnati all of the momentum. Instead
they went for broke on fourth down, a call that I personally
questioned at the time, and somehow the Illini defense surprised the
fans by making a rare goal-line stand. That stand came about only
after a lengthy video replay review, but I'll take any good fortune
that you want to send our way (BTW, I think the proper call was made
on that review, but they don't pay me to sit in that booth!).
Instead, the Illini tied a long-held record at Illinois by
marching 99 yards to score what was in effect the game-clinching
touchdown on a 22-yard TD reception for Illini Steve Hull, who
surprisingly hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. Again, color me surprised.
I had not seen much up to that moment that would've led me to
believe that a drive of that nature was forthcoming, but I love to
be surprised like that.
Next up for the Illini is a date with the Washington Huskies at
Soldier Field in Chicago. I don't know what to expect from the
Huskies. Most West Coast teams have great overall team speed and
lots of athletes. However, if it's all the same to you, I'd be happy
to be surprised once again!
[By JEFF MAYFIELD]
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