Smile Politely

Illini loss a true head-scratcher

Ohio State’s Ted Ginn was healthy for exactly sixteen seconds in the 2007 BCS National Championship game. During this time on the field he scored one touchdown and hurt one foot (his own, in the post-touchdown celebration).

As Ginn, the best player on the field that day, hobbled away to the locker room, I said to the person sitting next to me that poor old Ohio State would now have to make do with one of their other five-star recruits with speed to burn. I, like most of the rest of America, was pretty sure OSU was still going to win in a rout.

But over the course of the next 59 ¾ minutes of clock time, Florida put up 41 points to Ohio State’s seven. And it wasn’t even that close.

This scene was brought back to me in the first few minutes of the Illinois loss to Missouri on Saturday as Arrelious Benn, Illinois’ Ted Ginn, hobbled toward the locker room before either team had broken a sweat. He was out for the game.

But though the Benn injury would be an early and consistent crutch upon which commentators and Illini fans alike would lean, his absence, like Ginn’s, would turn out to mean absolutely nothing.

When Ron Turner’s Illinois team lost Brandon Lloyd for the 2000 season, it was a major blow. The Illinois receiving corps, without Lloyd, went from being good to average as Kurt Kittner’s one NFL-quality spread-the-field threat disappeared. But Ron Zook’s Illinois receivers were advertised as one of the two or three deepest in the nation and Benn thought to be merely the cherry on top of a really fast sundae. The loss of one player — even the best player — should not have made that much difference in scoring ability.

And, in fact, it didn’t. There was just nothing in that game, or any other Illini game in the past few years, to suggest that the team that scored 9 points would have scored 38 if only they’d had another receiver.

Another quarterback? Maybe. Another receiver? Nope.

On Friday, it was impossible to imagine that on Saturday Illinois would be worse than it had been on either of the previous two opening day losses to Missouri. But in the event, an Illini team that was more experienced and more laden with talent than it was in two previous meetings was beaten badly by a Mizzou team that was less experienced and less laden with talent than it was in the two previous meetings.

Unlike last year, when the excuse could be that Illinois no longer had Rashard Mendenhall, the running backs (and Mikel Leshoure in particular) held up their end of the bargain. The offensive line, another pre-game question on offense, also played very well.

So the question is: who is responsible for scoring only a single touchdown in a game — the quarterback, the receivers or the coach?

The answer: yes.

The defense is abysmal, and would take more column inches than Smile Politely allows me to explain why. So it’s enough to just note that they gave up 37 points to an offense of rookies and retreads. But the defense was always thought ro be questionable.

It’s the offense that is getting more talented, more experienced and worse. Maybe the folks over at NCSA, with their new supercomputer, can make sense of that.

Related Articles