When we last looked at the Illini Football Anxiety Meter, I was feeling Nervous, With Cautious Optimism. Since that time, training camp has come and gone, Marquez Beason has suffered a season-ending injury, a truly dominant performance against Akron nudged the meter dangerously to the left, and then in week two, a “market correction” type of win pulled it back to where it’s now reading...
Stiff Upper Lip Concealing High Hopes!
That’s right, after the dominant performance in the trenches in Week 1, I was ready to declare this a bowl team. Offensive line play is so important, and Illinois simply mauled the Zips into oblivion. Brandon Peters was sharp and the receivers made some plays, but the line impressed me so much that I assumed we had a unit that would definitely generate big push against even the best fronts in the Big Ten.
I even went so far as to declare Illinois a 49-point winner against the Connecticut Huskies.
The Fighting Illini reined me in a little with a disastrous first quarter and an uninspiring second half book-ending a brilliant second quarter. As such, though I still believe they’ll beat Eastern Michigan, it’s going to be a tight one!
My theory after Akron was that the line play was so dominant that the running game could make big gains without Reggie Corbin and Mike Epstein. This was proven to be untrue, and Epstein’s season-ending injury is a bigger loss than Week 1 led me to believe. Nevertheless, the screen game worked well and the quarterback and receiver play is the best in the Lovie Smith era. The question will be whether or not Peters can make defenses respect his ability to run for first down yardage. That’s going to go a long way.
UConn didn’t kill my optimism, but it reminded me that with Illinois, a measured approach is always best. Thus, I’m guarding a vast well of hope with a stoic face and a stiff upper lip.
This game will be the biggest test for Oluwole Betiku Jr. as he faces off with the best tackle he’s been matched up with so far this year in Steve Nielsen. Another dominant performance will unmute some of my optimism, as it’ll solidify that Wole is legit against a Big Ten caliber tackle.
I’m fully expecting the Illini to get halfway to bowl eligibility this weekend. My level of anxiety over this could remain stagnant with an ugly win, decrease with a dominating performance, or SPIKE with a loss. Hopefully the most movement we see from the Meter happens in the aftermath of the Nebraska game!