Football fans lacking excitement too

By Kyle Betts

IOh, the bye week. How I both love and hate you at the same time. On the one hand, I really don’t have to do any work. Yet on the other, I still find myself sitting in front of my computer trying to write something about Fighting Illini football.

With the team having its first scheduled bye week since the 2005 season, head coach Ron Zook has decided to “turn up the wick” at practices – which in Zooklish basically means playing with more intensity and having the players hit each other despite the week off. As a writer, however, it means there isn’t a whole lot to cover.

So instead of looking for a story at Memorial Stadium, I’ve decided to turn to you for some inspiration.

As an appendage of the four-headed news team monster that covers Illini football for this paper, I feel like I’ve developed my own view and stance on the 2008 Illinois football team because I nonsensically blabber about it twice a week, but now I want to hear what you think.

As on outside observer, what do you see? What does this team mean to you? What are your thoughts so far?

The team is on a bye week and so am I. Here’s my column space. What do you think about Illini football?

“I go to watch, but I’m not interested that much,” freshman Rebecca Poulter said. “I don’t really know the stats or the names.”

What!? I give you your chance to voice your opinion, frustration or praise of this team and you’re not even interested? My plan is really backfiring here.

“All I know is Juice (Williams),” freshman Lindsey Weltman said.

Well that’s a start. What do you see out of Juice so far?

“He’s overthrown a lot of balls,” senior Adam Broton said.

Broton is right, but I would probably say Juice is more sporadic than anything else when it comes to his accuracy. In 2007, Juice overthrew his receivers plenty of times. This season, though, his accuracy is slightly better on the shorter passes, even though he seems to be throwing behind his receivers on crossing routes too often. Despite a few disappointing passing performances over the last few games, Juice still has a decent 59.8 completion percentage – although last week against Louisiana-Lafayette was his worst showing so far with a 52.0 completion percentage.

The real issue with Juice’s passing seems to be his interceptions. In the last two games, against arguably less-talented opponents than Missouri, Juice has thrown more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). What’s up with that?

“They’re still getting used to each other without (Rashard) Mendenhall,” freshman Brent Rosenstein said about a team that lost 1,999 yards of total offense and 19 touchdowns when Mendenhall decided to leave school early for an NFL career.

Perhaps Rosenstein is onto something here. We all knew the offense was going to be changed by the loss of Mendenhall, but maybe losing a superstar in the backfield is more damaging than we thought as the team continues to try to adjust to life without him.

After the first three games last season, Mendenhall had six rushing touchdowns by himself. After the first three games this season, the team has only five rushing touchdowns total – two from wide receiver Arrelious Benn, two from Juice, one from backup running back Troy Pollard and zero from starting running back Daniel Dufrene.

When the offense can’t score on the ground, that puts a lot of pressure on a passing attacking that seems to operate better farther away from the end zone.

“A lot of people are disappointed about last weekend,” senior Jen Reese said despite her obvious excitement about the team (the giveaway was when she yelled, “Woo! Woo!” from the middle of the Quad after I asked her about her thoughts on the team).

Rosenstein and Broton also voiced their displeasure with the team’s most recent performance. Broton even thought the team should have dropped out of the Top 25 after the concerning win over UL-L, although Illinois remained in the rankings at No. 22.

At the end of the day, you guys have repeatedly voiced one general feeling about the 2008 Illini football team: disappointment.

Some of you are more apathetic than others, but the lack of excitement is clear. Perhaps coincidentally, Zook’s main concern with his team’s attitude happens to be its lack of emotion and excitement on the field.

Maybe the Illini faithful are just a little down because of the bye week, but it sounds like everyone needs to turn their wicks up (Honestly, what does this mean?) before Penn State.

Kyle Betts is a graduate student. He can be reached at [email protected]