Saturday may be last chance for bowl berth

 

 

By Daniel Johnson

The senior class’s last home game may bring with it another last – Illinois’ last opportunity to possibly qualify for a definite bowl berth. Players and coaches are both expecting a Big Ten team to need seven wins to be seriously considered for a game, something that would have been aided with a win last week against Western Michigan.

This week’s game against No. 10 Ohio State was likely the most anticipated game of the season in August, when the team was sizing up their schedule. And while the team is still looking forward to what linebacker Brit Miller is calling the team’s game of the year, Illinois can’t help but feel a sense of what might have been.

“There’s a sense of regret, I want to say,” said offensive lineman Xavier Fulton. “We were expected to perform better than we had. For some reason, we just didn’t come out with the same fire, or energy as last year. Last year, there was just more of a sense of we had to prove ourselves, keep proving ourselves, keep proving ourselves.”

Wide receiver Will Judson echoed his teammates sentiments and provided an explanation for the team’s struggles.

“It’s frustrating for us because we’ve had great weeks of practice before some of those games,” Judson said. “You have a good week and you just don’t go out and execute. It taught us a good lesson because it seemed like every week we’d come off a big win and not play as well as we knew we could.”

And although the team is understandably contemplating what might have been, head coach Ron Zook is trying to steer the team ahead.

“Like I told them, ‘You can walk around and feel sorry for yourself and no one cares. All we have is us.'” Zook said. “The best thing we can do is get ready to play a great football team that has a chip on their shoulder, and they’re going to come in here and we’re going to get their best shot. Let’s go see what we’re all about.”

Although it may be a bit late to be finding an identity for the team, Illinois will have more than its fair share of work with the Ohio State offense, led by running back Chris “Beanie” Wells and quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

“I have been very impressed with his accuracy and the strength of his arm,” Zook said of Pryor. “I think the coaching staff has done a great job of doing the thing that he does, not putting him in those situations is why he looks so good.”

Further complicating the situation is Illinois’ possession of the Illibuck, something that Ohio State has historically owned. The Buckeyes have won 56 of the total 81 games played for the trophy.

Regardless of what team that the Illini will face in the senior’s last game at Memorial Stadium, the team obviously wants a win. Getting it against an Ohio State team that it shocked last year and who is looking for a BCS bid, among other things, would just be a bonus.

“I can’t articulate how much we want this,” Fulton said.