So after scoring 42 points in a close win last week, the main criticisms of the team's performance were these: the defense looked terrible, and the offense's outburst was against pathetic SIU and was a fluke. Neither of those proved to be true on Saturday against Cincy, and both were cleaned up tremendously. The defense still looked porous at times, but we went from an FCS team to a good power six conference team and our defensive performance actually improved. And the offense stayed consistent. More good passes, good option plays, some (a few) good runs... everything just looked really good on Saturday. What didn't work last week did this week, and what did work last week worked again this week. Congrats to the team, that was a good win that was both confidence-building and impressive to watch. Below are some positives, some negatives, and some predictions for the rest of the non-conference schedule.
1. Bill Cubit's offense still looked great. Scheelhaase had time in the pocket for the majority of the game, and the offensive line held up pretty well. Nate had the presence of mind to let some plays develop and let guys get open, so he was patient but not too patient. Josh Ferguson impressed once again, as he picked up a TD and ran for 50 yards (he had a long 22 yard burst of speed too). and looked good on his cuts. The passing TD's were spread out pretty evenly amongst the WR corps; one for Wilson, one for Barr, one for Hull, and one for Lankford. Putting up 40+ points for two straight weeks was not something I was expecting, but I'm really liking it. We are currently in the top 25 in the nation in passing yards and scoring.
2. The defense made tons of improvement. When we were in a cover zone defense, there weren't as many plays where there were gaping holes up the middle for 20 or 30 yard gains. When we were in a man-to-man defense there weren't as many plays like, well, this one:
Everybody stuck to their assignments for the most part and the defense just looked much more clean and neat this time around, against a Cincy team that is considerably better than SIU. Barton also had an interception for the game's only fumble/interception turnover, but there was the clearly the big fourth-down stop in the third quarter where I think the game's momentum changed completely. Tremendous job by the D once the Bearcats got into the red zone, we really shut 'em down on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, (and sometimes 4th) down and goal.
3. The special teams looked good this week too. Taylor Zalewski went 6-for-6 on XP's and had one 19-yard FG too. We had punt returns of 38 and 26 yards, and we had a Justin DuVernois punt that landed inside the five yard line and one that went 53 yards. Good job overall by the special teams unit this week, they too looked clean and put-together, no major problems or issues here.
Bonus 4: The way Tim Beckman and the Illini players treated Munchie's horrible injury was great. Beckman took off running towards the QB when he went down, and helped him hold a towel on his leg while the trainers got to him. Several Illini players were quick to call over the medical staff, and the entire situation was handled with the utmost respect and sportsmanship. Even Houston Bates, who was in on the tackle of LeGaux, called over trainers. And get this: it turns out Bates and Munchie were actually high school teammates, and when Houston went back over to the Illinois sideline he started to cry. So kudos to the Illini. I wish Munchie the best and quickest recovery possible.
1. The defense gave up 456 yards total, and 308 passing yards. That won't cut it against the Ohio State's of the world. The cornerbacks and secondary need to realize that you just can't leave guys too much space, even when you're playing in a cover or zone. There were several 30 yard passing completions where no one was within 15 yards of the receiver that just drove me crazy. Especially on that 74-yard TD drive the Bearcats went on late in the third quarter, where they seemed just unstoppable. Easy completions of 20+ yards led to a touchdown in one of the quickest drives of the game. The D still needs work, but loads of improvement from week one.
2. Justin DuVernois still needs to improve. He had at least two punts that went no more than 20 or 25 yards, and that really set up Cincy for some easy TD drives because of the poor field position he put us in. It's more of a nitpicking negative than it is a big deal, but it still needs work.
3. Our time management skills. Once again in the first half we had one or two delay of game penalties that drove me absolutely nuts. Nothing is more frustrating than watching the QB take the players into a huddle and just kind of stand around to burn time off the play clock, then suddenly once it's down to 0:05 seconds he has to quickly run up and snap the ball. We shot ourselves in the foot with several silly penalties like this today, but if you're a 'glass half full' type of person, I guess you could say that there were no sideline interference calls, so we're improving.
Overall, I think few people expected this to happen. I sure as hell didn't. A blowout win against the Bearcats? Wow. Very impressive. Earlier I pegged this Cincinnati game as the game of the year for us, simply because of the way it would boost our team's confidence and morals going into the Washington game. Well, we won it, so let's head up to Chicago and see what happens against the Huskies next weekend. Although I will say Washington looked awful good against Boise State in week one, and they have a bye this week to be extra thorough in their preparation of the Illini, so this will by no means by an easy game to win.
Prediction Revisited: I don't even care. No one predicted us to win, let alone in blowout fashion. 38-24 Cincy was my call, but I'm happy as hell I was so wrong about it.
Prediction in Advance: Washington, as I said above, is a tough team. We don't know a whole lot about them (they've only played once this year), but we know they can go on the road and upset a pretty damn good Boise St squad. I'm actually gonna with us in this game, but it'll be close. Illinois 35, Washington 32.
So what say you? Drop by below to vote and comment!