For the first time in a long time, both the Illini and Bears won on the same weekend. However, each could be facing some adversity in the near future. Illinois has one of the hottest teams in the country coming to town and the Bears will be missing one of their big play defenders. Read here for all the details of this past weekend and what to expect next Saturday and Sunday.
First things first, the Illini won. I know it wasn't very pretty, but it was a win and nobody can take that away from this team. In the past two years, if something went wrong, the Illini collapsed and never recovered. They did not do that this weekend. When the Broncos took the lead late in the fourth quarter, how many Illini fans expected a win for the home team? The players didn't get down and kept fighting. That's something we hadn't seen from a Ron Turner squad since 2001.
The Illini impressed early and late, but left something to be desired in the middle of the game. Pierre Thomas' 99-yard opening kickoff return proved to be the difference in the game. E.B. Halsey's 40-yard punt return gave freshman QB Brad Bower a shortened field to work with on the final drive. I like Bower's chances of leading a 40-yard game winning drive a lot more than I like his chances of leading an 80-yard game winning drive. Other than the first play and the last drive, there are not many positives to take out of this game.
Illinois lost the turnover battle to Western Michigan. Bower threw two interceptions, including his first pass of the day and a pass that was picked off as Illinois was threatening to increase a fourth quarter lead. Bower also coughed up a fumble that was recovered by the Illini. Bower will most likely return to the backup role this weekend, but whoever takes the majority of the snaps must control the ball better. Big Ten teams will pounce on mistakes and miscues.
The Illinois defense still struggled with their tackling and allowed 27 points and 406 yards to a team that lost 63-0 at Virginia Tech the week before. When your defense is struggling, the last person you want coming to town is a Heisman Trophy candidate. However, that's what awaits the Illini this Saturday when Purdue and senior quarterback Kyle Orton arrive at Memorial Stadium. The orange and blue will need perfect tackling, blanket coverage of receivers and a strong pass rush to corral the Boilermakers. A little luck wouldn't hurt, either.
Illinois kicker Jason Reda missed an extra point, which was the first extra point missed by an Illini kicker since the 1998 season. You can overcome mistakes like these against teams from the MAC, but Purdue heads into Champaign-Urbana as one of the hottest teams in college football. Illinois could play a perfect game against the Boilers and it still might not be enough to win their first conference game.
Bears 21, Packers 10
So, this is what it feels like on the day after a Chicago victory over Green Bay? It's been awhile, but I could get used to this feeling. Hopefully, this feeling sets in again on the morning of Monday, January 3rd, 2005 after the Bears close out the regular season with a victory over the Packers at Soldier Field.
Part of the reason that Lovie Smith was brought in to coach the Bears was to increase the number of turnovers caused by the defense. Brett Favre was picked off twice and Brian Urlacher stripped Ahman Green of the ball and Mike Brown returned the fumble 95 yards for a touchdown. It seems like Lovie's influence is already being felt by the defense.
Thomas Jones ran the ball down the Packers' throats the way that Green usually attacks the Bears. The most impressive drive came on the first possession of the third quarter when Thomas picked up all 79 yards on a six-play drive that led to a touchdown. That was a perfect way to keep the momentum on the Bears sideline during the second half.
The bad news in all the Bears excitement is that Brown ruptured his Achilles' tendon and is done for the season. Brown always seems to be involved when a big play is needed and his defense will be missed. Let's hope that Bobby Gray will be able to pick up where Brown left off. Judging by Gray's interception of Favre on the first play after Brown was taken off the field; it looks like the defense won't miss a beat. Gray will be tested in his first game as a starter, facing Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss in Minnesota.
I'm glad to report that since FOX analyst Brian Baldinger was nowhere near the game, I was able to listen to the fine color commentary of Darryl "Moose" Johnston. However, sideline reporter Tony "The Goose" Siragusa needs to stick to his guest appearances on "The Sopranos." Play-by-play announcer needs to study the Bears' roster a little harder. The Bears are coached by Lovie Smith, not Lovie Jones.
Around the Big Ten
So many college kickers have been missing extra points and field goals this season, but Ohio State's Mike Nugent just keeps on making clutch kicks. Nugent should make these kicks, though. I think he's in his ninth year of eligibility.
Michigan quarterback Chad Henne was just picked off by San Diego State again.
If Iowa and Wisconsin wanted to play against Arizona State and Arizona in bad weather, they should have just waited until December and had the Pac-10 teams come up north.
If I'm Michigan State head coach John L. Smith, I'm holding open auditions for the starting quarterback job today. After that, I'm calling around to junior colleges and see if they have any options for next year.
Welcome back to earth, Indiana football!
Around the NFL
Since Kellen Winslow Jr. is a soldier, did he get taken to a military hospital after he broke his leg?
Speaking of the Browns, what was that thing Jeff Garcia was wearing on his head? It looked like some sort of lingerie his Playmate girlfriend would wear for a photo shoot. Wearing that thing had to be the reason the Garcia only completed seven passes to his own team and three passes to the other team.
Before ESPN and other media outlets trip all over themselves to heap praise on the Detroit Lions, I need to see more than two victories. Yes, they beat the Bears, but the Bears shot themselves in the foot during that game. Yes, they beat the Texans, but the Texans are horrible on the road. If they beat the Eagles next week, maybe I'll show some love to the football version of the Motor City Kitties.
I made fun of Michigan for turning the ball over a lot on Saturday, so I have to give a hard time to the Washington Redskins for turning the ball over seven times on Sunday against the Giants. I know it's been a long time since Joe Gibbs last coached the Redskins, but somebody should tell him that the rules haven't changed since 1991. It's still a bad thing when you fumble or throw an interception.
Even though the Giants won, look for head coach Tom Coughlin to try and fine the team because they didn't win by enough.
Former Illini Eugene Wilson had two interceptions in the Patriots win over the University of Illinois Football Alumni Association, Phoenix Chapter aka the Arizona Cardinals.
Around the Ryder Cup
I think I've noticed a trend in the Ryder Cup. I didn't get to see any of the matches on Friday and the U.S. got beat. I got up early on Saturday morning and watched the American's jump out to a fast start. When I got home from the Illinois game, I saw that the day's matches didn't turn out well for the home team. Sunday's viewing was dedicated to the Bears-Packers game and by the team we checked the matches, the Europeans had already clinched. After this, I've already requested a vacation day from work for the Friday that the matches begin in 2006.
Around High School Football
Congratulations to coach Stan Weinke and the Tuscola Warriors for their 41-0 victory over Arcola in the 100th game in that rivalry, dubbed by local media as "The Cola Wars." I'm going to stop now because I feel like Sports Illustrated's Peter King when he starts mentioning his daughter's field hockey team.