The season is far from over, but there's not a lot of room for error. What looked like a couple of "gimmies" on the schedule aren't any longer. From here on out the Illini must play like it's their last game.
Players and coaches this week talked a lot about making plays, not excuses. At this point in the season they should know their assignments, their plays, and the game situation. If they don't, they will be sitting home again watching six other Big Ten teams play during holiday bowl season.
The Illini are a dangerous team. That's right – dangerous. When a team put up these numbers for net-yardage (461, 411, 283 and 496), I would say they have a few weapons. It is easy to focus on the negatives because they are losing, but Turner feels differently. "I like to focus on the positive. I see a lot of good things and we have some very good young football players," said Turner.
QB Jon Beutjer is having a great senior season. He has completed 65 percent of his passes - tops in the Big Ten (for 1,137 yards and 8 TD's). Beutjer also leads the conference in total offense with 1,119 total yards and an average of 279.8 yards per game. There is always a "key" to every game. The key to the Illini's season is to protect Beutjer. California sacked him 5 times Saturday. By late October, that's going to take its toll.
Everyone talks about the loss of last year's receivers. This year's crop is all new, but they more than hold their own. Junior Mark Kornfeld is becoming a fan favorite. Although he doesn't lead the team in receptions or yards, he's probably their most reliable receiver. Junior Kelvin Hayden is playing like the JUCO All-American from a year ago. Hayden leads the team with 72.5 yards a game. During last Saturday's game, Hayden caught a 72-yard TD pass - the longest since the 1994 season.
Wisconsin has always played the Illini tough, and this year figures to be no different. They are 3-1, and looking to go 4-1. They are a team with a lot of weapons: Lee Evans, Anothy Davis and Dwayne Smith to name a few. They will be another tough assignment for Defensive Coordinator Mike Cassity. Wisconsin will make it difficult for the Illini; they run the ball effectively and throw it well.
The time is now for the Illini to play a complete game of offense, defense and special teams. If they don't, we will see a lot of the players at Assembly Hall watching Coach Bruce Webber's basketball team.