Those daring young men and their flying machines, and pigskins.
Saturday’s episode of The Juice Williams Show featured an aeronautical display rivaling The Silver Wings — The U.S. Army Command Exhibition Parachute Team which dramatically opened the night’s festivities, dropping from the pitch black sky, and that Chinook helicopter which you saw hovering over Urbana for most of Friday and Saturday.
Not to be outdone, Williams immediately threw long, hitting Will Judson for 60 yards on the Illini’s first play from scrimmage. It was one of many long bombs against an Indiana secondary which forgot to bring its cleats, and was forced to play the game in concrete loafers. In all, Williams completed 16 of 22 passes for 271 yards, and three touchdowns. Illinois (4-3, 2-2) walloped Indiana (2-5, 0-4) 55–13.
“You try to hit some short passes to get things going,” Williams told the media, postgame. In fact, the short game was not on display tonight, as Illini receivers easily outran the coverage. Indiana is, frankly, terrible. And their defense is worse. But the biggest problem for the Hoosiers on Saturday wasn’t their dawdling secondary. It was the absence of their one ray of hope. Quarterback Kellen Lewis stayed in Bloomington to nurse a high ankle sprain.
“I’ve had a pretty relaxed couple of weeks, and we want to keep this going,” The Juice added. It’s true that he’s had a couple of relaxed weeks, and the very tense week that occurred in between may have been pushed from his memory via psychological block — which, for quarterbacks, is almost as important as offensive line blocks. Williams tacitly acknowledged as much, prefacing the remark by saying, “A lot of times you hear if the quarterback makes a mistake he wants to crawl out of his hole.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said, “He has been productive, taking better care of the football, all the things we’re preaching.” Of course, it was Williams fumble last week, with his back to his own end zone, which gave the decisive touchdown to Minnesota. Locksley made sure that wouldn’t happen Saturday: Most of the time Illinois was on offense, the ball was high in the sky.
There were no exciting trick plays. The lone reverse lost 6 yards. The formations, on the other hand, got even weirder. Indiana lined up in a Swinging Gate formation, not seen anywhere since the Hoosiers tried it in the Insight.com bowl last winter. It worked just as badly then.
The Swinging Gate
Illinois continues to run its extra point team through an old Dick Hood mindgame. Someday, when everybody’s lulled to sleep by it, you’ll see two points scored, just when we need them. You watch.
Last week’s goat, Special Teams, made fewer major mistakes. Freshman Derek Dimke replaced Michael Cklamovski on kickoffs. His first two dropped the ball right where you want it dropped — around the goal line, and not deep in the end zone. Kickoff number three landed at the 10, and by his fifth kickoff, Dimke could manage only the Indiana 23, from which Brandon Walker-Roby easily eluded a coverage team not prepared for short kicks (and unaccustomed to in-bounds kicks), taking the ball to the IU 40. It’s vital to keep track of these dull stats, as field position can often dictate outcomes (cf. Minnesota).
Indiana’s kicking game, once a bright spot for the Hoosiers — actually make that twice — sucked. Austin Starr, already counting his NFL chickens, shanked a pair that might have kept Indiana psychologically competitive. To show inter-kicker empathy, Matt Eller shanked an extra point for Illinois.
Hero of the Game
Because we’ve grown immune to the weekly record-setting feats of The Juice — he may have passed another total-yardage milestone this week, but everybody’s, like, so over it by now, and can’t even be bothered — Illinois fans must look elsewhere for their excitement fix. Freshman Jason Ford helped, by running 172 yards — mostly through other people, rather than around them — and three touchdowns.
The same ennui may have set in for dramatic precision displays by our military. (How many planes can you fly over a stadium before everybody stops noticing?) But I’ll venture to say that the sudden, surprise landing of Master Sergeant Dale Warner and Staff Sergeant John Young is an exception. The crowd went nuts.
If you weren’t there, you can watch the practice run:
And if you want to see what it looks like when the stadium is full . . .
But for my money, the most impressive feat performed by our military Saturday night involved the officer class (admittedly working as hard as enlisted men) ringing the bell each time Illinois scored. That means 7 + 14 + 21 + 28 + 34 + 41 + 48 + 55 clangs. No casualty reports have been made available concerning ligament or eardrum damage to Nick Pecoraro, Jason Gerontes, Doug Wozniak, Nick Schuetter, or Robert Reichardt. We thank them for their service and commitment, and hope — for all our sake’s — that during the course of their service, they are not called upon to ring anybody else’s bell.
Looks Good in Orange
We like to highlight tasteful fashions in Orange and Blue. This week, we call your attention the ultra-fashionable Deb Klein & Jane Swanson (note the orange checkered afghan).
Hat of the night honors go to Demetrias Senor, replendant in an Illini tartan cap.
Even the moon dressed in orange.
Photos by Heather Winters