Lovie, Illinois football on right track, just not there yet
September 11, 2016
The Illinois football team started its Saturday night matchup against North Carolina in the best possible way: a 65-yard touchdown run from Ke’Shawn Vaughn followed by a quick three-and-out from the defense.
The sellout crowd was wild.
It was an energy I’d never seen in my years at Illinois.
The I-L-L chants had never been louder, and I’d never seen as much orange in Memorial Stadium.
It seemed that this was a new Illini team, one that was getting the job done efficiently and making fans excited along the way.
But just as quickly as it seemed to change, the team reverted to the old Illinois football squad that I’d come to know and love to hate.
A lot of things went right for Illinois off the field, but more went wrong on the field.
I asked Joe Spencer how he felt this game was different than last year’s matchup.
“The biggest thing is we were right there,” Spencer said. “This year I think you can pinpoint a little bit more where our mistakes were made and what we can fix.”
Spencer is right.
And while the game was close until the final 10 minutes, penalty after penalty didn’t make it feel that way.
But it did feel easier to know what was wrong with the 13 flags for a total of 99 yards.
Watching the game last year felt overwhelming. This time, it was just frustrating.
Between the penalties and lack of a sustained offensive drives, the team was out of sync and let emotions carry it away.
North Carolina was clearly the better football team Saturday, though it was hardly perfect. Illinois lost out on ample opportunities to stay in the game and maybe even take a lead. Instead, it buried itself.
The crowd stuck around for the end, with the student section not completely emptying out until Illinois lost complete control of the game.
Progress for Illinois football in the past has seemed to be taking one step forward, always followed by two steps back.
Keeping fans interested was a lost cause last season. In order for the “sleeping giant,” as Illinois has been called for many years, to finally wake up, Smith and his players need to show something Beckman’s teams couldn’t: progress.
If the score had remained closer, there would have been more of a chance, yet the Illini once again allowed the Tar Heels to get away with a huge deficit in the fourth.
Regardless, the picture-perfect Saturday evening ended with fewer fans in the stands and with players leaving the field in defeat.
The image of offensive lineman Gabe Megginson being helped off the field with one shoe on and one shoe off after sustaining an injury summed the night up well.
Parts of the future Illinois football are here.
The rest was left out on the field.
Charlotte is a senior in Media