Time is the medicine Illinois football needs


Quentin Shaw

Illinois running back Ra’Von Bonner sweeps past defenders during the game against Rutgers on Saturday, Oct. 24. The Illini lost 35-24

By Tatiania Perry, Assistant sports editor

Sitting down to write this was a bit difficult. I didn’t know whether to talk about all of the positives of the Illinois-Minnesota game, or if I should focus on all that went wrong.

It is really easy to sit back and judge Illinois as a poor football team. Every year, it gets harder to remember a time when the Illini were actually good. After all, it’s been (nearly) a decade since Ron Zook’s 2007 Illini team shocked the world and made it to the Rose Bowl.

The “optimism is key,” “we will win,” “trust the process” mentality is just tiring.

But hear me out; we might actually have to trust the process.

At the start of the Minnesota matchup, it appeared like it was going to be yet another disappointment for Illinois fans, as Minnesota scored with the first three minutes.

However, the Illini responded rather quickly, officially burning the redshirt of Cam Thomas, who helped give the offense a new dimension as a running threat at quarterback. Illinois hung with Minnesota, keeping the score tied until a late 12 play, 75-yard touchdown drive made the score 17-10, Minnesota with just over four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Then, on the very next play, Cam Thomas made a freshman mistake: he threw an interception returned by Jonathan Celestin for a touchdown that put the game on ice for Minnesota. Just like that, any hope of an Illini win was extinguished.

I feel like most of the Illini fans have been pretty divided on whether they wanted to see Thomas play or if it was best to just hold off on him for next season and see if he can compete with incoming dual-threat quarterback Coran Taylor for the starting job.

On one hand, I agree that not playing Thomas would have had its benefits.

His inexperience at this point of the season doesn’t help the team, as we saw on Saturday in the fourth quarter when it became apparent that his throwing accuracy and decision making need work. However, holding him until next season is rather pointless when the Illini are anticipating the arrival of highly-touted recruit Taylor, and even possibly the junior college recruit Dwayne Lawson.

Either way, Thomas may be overshadowed at the quarterback position, so why not use him now?

The kid can run the ball. He is what we thought Crouch was going to be. Crouch’s size makes it a bit harder for him to be agile, while Thomas is just small enough to be wily, which he showed immediately.

The team looked decent for a solid minute.

More than once, the Illini have proven that they are a first quarter, first half team. They come out hot at the beginning and begin to cool off as the game goes on, but what can we expect? When you start 13 freshman — the most in the NCAA — and play around 25 throughout the course of the game, the inexperience will get the best of them.

Head coach Lovie Smith made it known that freshmen are playing because they are the best fit for their respective positions. The extensive list of injuries littered through the limited ranks of upperclassmen also makes it a necessity for younger players to see the field.

I think it is unfair to assume that these young guys can keep up with players who are physically larger than them and who have the experience of playing in the Big Ten.

I’m not saying that Illini fans should settle for irrelevancy and stop expecting to compete, but I think I finally understand that we really should trust the process of building this program.

Maybe it is just my youth showing. I have been told by older folks that my optimism will soon be beaten out of me, but I don’t think that will be the case.

We are heading in a positive direction and need more time to reach our destination. I think it is safe to chalk up this season as a building year and anticipate what the future has in store.


[email protected]