Q&A with an Opponents Blogger:Illinois Fighting Illini

The Buckeyes have another strong opponent this weekend the Illinois Fighting Illini. What did B1G basketball start already? Seriously Illinois has been a team to upset the Buckeyes in years past and here to help me with this weeks post is Robert from IlliniBoards.com.

MotSaG: Two years into the process and many folks are calling for Tim Beckman to be removed, has the team lost the confidence in their coach also?

IlliniBoard: I don’t get that sense. Compared to other teams, this seems like a tight-knit group that is fairly close with the coaches. At least compared to last year. During Beckman’s first season, there was a lot of chatter about the seniors on defense not liking the scheme change and the offensive players not meshing with the co-coordinators. That’s been completely different this year, from spring ball through today. This team is very close. They’re just all stuggling under the weight of this conference losing streak.

MotSaG: Beckman said this week his team is aware of the unfortunate 19 game conference skid but are making strides do fans see them making these strides?

IlliniBoard: This is a tough question to answer. I think I need to explain the Illini fanbase to answer that.

Mike White and then John Mackovic built the program in the 80’s, and in 1990, I’d say it was Michigan and Ohio State and then Illinois-Iowa-MSU for the next tier in the Big Ten. Illinois was going to bowl after bowl and were ranked as high as #5 that year. Since Mackovic left for Texas, nothing has gone right. It’s been 22 years of digging a giant hole. Bad coaching hires, changing coordinators and systems year after year, and an athletic director that scheduled the most difficult non-conference schedule in the nation becuase “we’re not afraid to play anybody”.

So fans are fed up. At the first sign of the football season going south, I’d say the majority of the fanbase tunes out. It’s just been too many years of bad decisions and poor leadership. To make things worse, the program has teased fans with two BCS bowls (2001 and 2007), only to fall right back down.

To your question: there have been strides, and the offense is greatly improved, but that’s asking a lot of this fanbase to see them. The coaching staff continues to get sideline penalties for tripping officials (two last year and, unbelievably, two this year). Illini fans will just repeat the words “fire the coach” over and over until we win eight games for three consecutive years. Can you blame them?

MotSaG: What are the chances the famed IlliBuck stays in Champaign?

IlliniBoard: 2.41%

This game is always weird – remember when Ohio State came to Champaign in 2006, played a 2-8 Illini team, and only won by seven? Strange things happen in this game when Ohio State is thinking national title game (overtime in 2002, 7 point game in 2006, Illini win in 2007).

But no, there’s no chance. OK, a 2.41% chance.

MotSaG: the Fighting Illini fans be out in full support Saturday or will there be Scarlet overrunning Memorial Stadium?

IlliniBoard: The 2002 game was overrruning with Scarlet. Since then, though, Ohio State crowds in Champaign have been muted. I never understood why. We have the cheapest tickets in the conference. You can probably get four tickets on the street for $80 total. Why not make the drive to Champaign? If I had a program like Ohio State, I’d drive 1,800 miles for $20 tickets.

To the first part of your question, no, Fighting Illini fans will not be out in full support. 34 dogs at home as you approach the second longest conference losing streak in history? Would you go?

MotSaG: What are Illinois fans looking forward to the most for the Buckeye match-up?

IlliniBoard: For it to be over with no injured players. I’m kind of serious.

MotSaG: I read on one of your message boards that fans are surprised that the spread for the game is like 33 points do they not have enough faith in their team that it should be less?

IlliniBoard: This defense lost nine starters last year. To make matters worse, Ron Zook stopped recruiting cornerbacks and safeties around 2008 or so, which means that nearly the entire secondary is made up of first and second year players (it’s not that he’s playing the young guys to build for the future – he only has young guys). No member of the starting defensive line had a single Big Ten offer from any other school.

So if Ohio State wants to run for 400 yards on Saturday, they can just do that, no questions asked. There’s literally nothing we can do to stop it. We just don’t have the horses. Our only chance this year is to force turnovers… and we’re dead last in the Big Ten at that. So watching an Illinois game feels a bit inevitable. Giving up six or seven yards on the ground every play and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

MotSaG: Ohio State is 282-0-1 when they score 35 points or more and Illinois is allowing an average of 34.7 a game, do the Buckeyes keep their streak alive and score more than 35?

IlliniBoard: Without question.

MotSaG: Weakness you see on the Buckeyes defense?

IlliniBoard: The one thing Illinois has going for it this season is that Nathan Scheelhaase is having an outstanding season. There’s not a single player on this offense that will sniff the NFL draft, and he’s taking that offense and putting up big numbers. Put him on a team with an average defense and people would be noticing his season.

So the one thing we can do is throw the ball a little bit, and the one thing Ohio State struggles with a little bit is passing defense. Teams that can throw a little bit – Cal, Northwestern – have put up some yards and points against you.

Is that enough to say “watch out for 400 yards from Scheelhaase”? No. I’m not sure we can contain the Ohio State pass rush, so Nathan would have to make these plays while scrambling around. But you asked if I saw a weakness, and the one (and only) thing we do well is the one (and only) thing Ohio State has struggled with a bit.

MotSaG: What does Illinois need to get recruiting wise to improve the team for next season?

IlliniBoard: This is the youngest Illini team in maybe 20 years. Starting with only having 10 seniors. So this might be the smallest Illini recruiting class in 20 years. Maybe 14-16 players. Last year was a full 25, but this year will be 10 less.

So most of the class is already verballed. And the biggest get is already on campus (Wes Lunt, 4-star QB who transferred from Oklahoma State). The rest of the class is… underwhelming. It will finish 12th out of 12 in the Big Ten rankings. So yeah, things are going great in Champaign!

MotSaG: What is your prediction?

IlliniBoard: Again, this game is always screwy when Ohio State is trying to get to the title game. So I could see some crazy game like Rams/Colts last Sunday: the Rams had 12 first downs the entire game and won by 30. Becuase football is sometimes football.

So put me down for the Illini covering the spread. Also, I won’t be in the press box for this game as my son has a high school playoff game that day. That’s a near guarantee that the game is close becuase I always miss all the good stuff.

Still, Ohio State wins easily. I have this thing where I won’t put down a score prediction until the Friday night before the game, so I can’t give you a score, but put me down for “Ohio State wins easily but Illinois covers the spread”.

As Robert stated this game shouldn’t even be close. I would like to thank Robert who you can find on twitter @AlionEye or read his stuff at IliniBoard.com, his work is outstanding and a joy to read.

If you want to get involved and have questions about upcoming opponents feel free to send them in to me and I can send them on. Email your questions to AskMotSaG@gmail.com or MotSaG@gmail.com. Would love to know your thoughts on this post and hope you enjoyed it.