Smile Politely

Third time’s a charm?

Illinois will meet the Wildcats of Northwestern on Saturday at Wrigley Field in Chicago. The “Allstate Wrigleyville Classic”, hosted by Northwestern University, will feature a street festival on “Wildcat Way” where football fans can enjoy food and refreshments, play games, and watch college football action from around the nation on a large LED screen and numerous flat-screen TVs in celebration of the first college football game at Wrigley Field since 1938. The game at Wrigley Field is quickly becoming a national sensation. ESPN has announced it will bring its “Game Day” crew to Chicago and broadcast its college football show from Wrigley Saturday morning.

The Northwestern Wildcat football team has scheduled a block party on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues with the Illinois football team featured as the guest of honor. Northwestern is coming off a come-from-behind victory over 13th ranked Iowa on Senior Day at Ryan Field in Evanston. Trailing by 10 points starting the fourth quarter, the Wildcats put together two long scoring drives, including a game winning touchdown pass from Dan Persa to Demetrius Fields with little over a minute remaining for a 21-17 victory. However, this victory was tainted with misfortune as Dan Persa tore his Achilles tendon as he celebrated the TD; he will be out for the remainder of the season.

Persa previously set the single-season Big Ten Conference record by completing 73.5 percent of his throws. He threw for 2,581 yards and 15 touchdowns with just four interceptions. Plus, he ran for 519 yards and nine touchdowns. RS FR Evan Watkins will be pressed into service with very little game experience. Northwestern’s offense will have to rely on an average rushing attack and play action screens to #29 RB Mike Trumpy.

All the pressure will fall on Northwestern’s defense, who limited Iowa’s rushing attack to mere 101 yards on 28 attempts last week. Wildcat defense led by #10 Brian Peters, #44 Nate Williams, and #51 Bryce McNaul will attempt to limit Mikel Leshoure, Nathan Scheelhaase, and the Illini rushing attack and force them to be one-dimensional.

Where has Illinois’ defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s defense gone? During the past two games, Illinois has surrendered 105 points, and when Coach Zook studied the game tape of the Minnesota game, he was displeased with his defense’s play on third down. Minnesota converted on seven of 15 third-down plays, and Zook cited poor tackling and poor execution as problems that must be fixed immediately. In my non-expert opinion, most of the third-down conversions were third and long and Illinois continued to only rush three and drop eight into pass coverage, this defensive strategy has not worked all year and will not work in the next two games.

I guarantee this — if the Illini had blitzed Minnesota with third down and long from their own 20, #8 Adam Weber would never have gained 29 yards up the middle to sustain that final drive. This Illini team has the talent to be successful; it has underachieved because the coaching staff is afraid to take a risk. In the last two losses the Illinois coaching staff has chosen on several occasions with fourth down and one yard to go, to punt the ball rather than go for it! When was the last time an Illinois football team faked a punt, faked a field goal, or faked an extra point? As a former coach and player, I can attest that when your team is picked to finish last, you have to take some chances. In practice your team rehearses these gimmick plays until they are confident they will work in a game situation. As fans, we cannot blame the student athletes as they are doing only what they are coached to do.

Land of Lincoln Trophy

In 1945, the in-state rivalry of Northwestern and University of Illinois was made official with the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy. Illinois held the lead with a 52–46–5 record, until 2008 when the NCAA mandated that all Native American imagery deemed hostile and abusive must be removed from college athletics. The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk, like Chief Illiniwek, fell into this category and was banned.

The following year, Dick Tracy and Dick Locher designed The Land of Lincoln Trophy to take Sweet Sioux’s place. The Trophy is a bronze replica of the stovepipe hat famously worn by Abraham Lincoln. Northwestern won the inaugural Land of Lincoln trophy game, giving the school a 1–0 advantage. The Illini will really have to buckle down to even the score.

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